Zeal, which is steady ardor in loving, can be reasonable or unreasonable. It can be unreasonable in two ways: when zealotry coerces others to love something, and when jealousy prevents others from loving something. Padre Quadrupani writes: “Zeal for the salvation of souls is a sublime virtue, and yet how many errors and sins are every day committed in its name! Evil is never done more effectually and with greater security, says Saint Francis de Sales, than when one does it believing he is working for the glory of God.”
Quadrupani offers this analogy: “Acts of zeal are like coins the stamp upon which it is necessary to examine attentively, as there are more counterfeits than good ones.” He teaches: “Zeal to be pure should be accompanied with very great humility, for it is of all virtues the one into which self-love most easily glides. When it does so, zeal is apt to become imprudent, presumptuous, unjust, bitter.”
He observes: “In every home there grows some thorn, something, in other words, that needs correction; for the best soil is seldom without its noxious weed. Imprudent zeal, by seeking awkwardly to pluck out the thorn, often succeeds only in plunging it farther in, thus rendering the wound deeper and more painful. In such a case it is essential to act with reflection and great prudence. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, says the Holy Spirit (Eccl 3:7). Prudent zeal is silent when it realizes that to be so is less hurtful than to speak.”
Therefore, “Never allow your zeal to make you over eager to correct others, . . . and when you must do it remember that the most important thing to consider is the choice of the moment.”
Quotations from Carlo Giuseppe Quadrupani, Light and Peace: Instructions for Devout Souls to Dispel Their Doubts and Allay Their Fears (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1898).