Can You Have Too Much Holy Zeal?

By pintswaquinas September 21, 2022

As Catholics, we want to be able to address God with the words of the Psalmist: “Zeal for thy house has consumed me.”

But is it possible to have too much holy zeal? You know, to the point where you’re even annoying monks and nuns?

Here are some things to keep in mind to make sure your zeal doesn’t become too radical and spill over into an unholy mess.

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1. Think about holy zeal under the rubric of virtue
There are different categories of virtue, including theological, moral, and intellectual virtues. Zeal is among the moral virtues. One thing that sets the moral virtues apart from the other categories is that a particular moral virtue is often found between two extremes. For example, the virtue of fortitude is the happy medium between the excesses of rashness and cowardice.

Whereas with a theological virtue such as charity, well, you can’t really have too much love of God, can you?

Zeal can fall prey to both extremes. Either you can lack zeal and become complacent, or you become overzealous.

2. We should be radical in our adherence, but not always in the material conditions of our adherence
The Gospel call is radical. Following Jesus is radical. You want to follow Jesus zealously by clinging to Him with your whole heart and mind. So you are called to be radically zealous on the inside and, to a certain extent, on the outside.

But you shouldn’t put the radical exterior actions above interior dispositions. Doing so can actually lead you into sin. For example, emphasizing exterior acts of penance over a humble, penitential spirit can lead to pride. You’re focusing so much on the outer act that everyone can see that you forget that true penance consists of a conversion of heart.

3. “Radical” is a comparable term
Radicalness shouldn’t be your defining trait. Your identity is rooted in Christ. Catholics need to be cautious about defining themselves as simply “against the world.” Yes, we are called to not be of this world, but that’s because we’re made for heaven. It’s not because we’re fundamentally anti-world.

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You also need to think twice about comparing your zeal to the saints. Yes, you want to have a saintly zeal. But that looks different for different people, as the saints show.

Your zeal will largely be defined by your vocation. Zeal doesn’t look the same for spouses, parish priests, missionary priests, monks, nuns, or consecrated laypeople. St. Francis de Sale actually warns Catholic mothers about trying to be too much like nuns to where they neglect their families!

Ultimately, the two best ways to determine whether you have the right amount of zeal are by considering your state of life and talking to a spiritual director. Then, embrace who you are, and zealously become the best version of yourself for the glory of God and your own salvation!

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