Can We Choose Enthusiasm?

I recently realized that I need to move past my habitual cynicism if I am to contribute to positive and creative solutions in overcoming challenges—in my personal life, in my work life, and as a citizen of our city and world. I am learning that in a society in which emotions increasingly seem to drive behavior, exercising thoughtful agency and intentionality in how we live and respond, regardless of how we feel, can be a great spiritual challenge.

For example, can we choose to be enthusiastic and do so authentically, even when our emotions or life circumstances might weigh us down? And, if so, will it even make a positive difference? To a certain extent the answer is yes, in that our emotional state can often change simply with a shift in perspective. Life habits, like exercise, meditation, or friendship, can also do much to cultivate enthusiasm and gratitude for what is present and possible before us. Our communities also play a vital role in helping us to cultivate and sustain an enthusiastic hope and vision. Moreover, rather than cynicism, in terms of its generative impact enthusiasm certainly tends to be more inspiring and effective in persuading others toward positive action.

Dictionaries suggest enthusiasm involves enjoyment, interest, and an energy or zest for life. Our current day understanding of enthusiasm shares something in common with what Vincent de Paul, in his day, named “zeal.” Vincent said, “if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.”[1] He seemed to see zeal as closely tied to courage and to an abiding trust in Providence, but also as something that one could acquire through lived experience and grace. Vincent once described zeal as the “soul of virtues.”[2] Zeal, for Vincent, was more than mere sentiment; it seemed to involve channeling our own conscious will and giving ourselves over to a purpose beyond ourselves. For him, this larger purpose was what he called “the spirit of the Mission.”[3]

How might we remain enthusiastic or cultivate the virtue of zeal in the face of today’s challenges, both personal and societal? As we witness the most recent destruction in Haiti, the horrific situation in Afghanistan, the pernicious gun violence in our city, the continued havoc caused by the pandemic and natural disasters like hurricanes, or the intractable systemic problems of racism, poverty, and war… and on and on… pain, sadness, and anger are perfectly understandable feelings to be experiencing. How do we get from there to enthusiasm or zeal, and why even bother?

One important reason to move towards enthusiasm is because change, whether at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, or societal level, requires it. If we are to move through and past painful emotions and work towards that which can transform, uplift, and create a new reality, we need the energy and vitality of enthusiasm. We need a certain hope and zest for life and for all that is still possible. At DePaul, as a Vincentian university, we must find a way to inspire one another to embody this “zeal.” It is our mission to prepare our graduates to become “agents of transformation throughout their lives” and to address “the great questions of our day, promoting peaceful, just, and equitable solutions to social and environmental challenges.”[4] We should consider enthusiasm, or zeal, an essential Vincentian virtue for our times.

  • What are the habits that help you to cultivate enthusiasm or a zeal for life?
  • How might you help to foster an enthusiasm for the “spirit of the Mission” in your own area of work, or in your circles of influence at DePaul

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 14), 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:250. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/

[2] Letter 460, To Pierre Escart, in Annecy, 25 July 1640, Ibid., 2:84. See: https://‌via.library.‌depaul.edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/27/

[3] Conference 211, Op. Cit., 12:251.

[4] See: DePaul University Mission Statement

Living with Zeal

“If love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.” 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues, 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:250.

Vincent de Paul once stated, “If love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.” (CCD, 12:250) Such an image invokes the idea of a love that burns with compassion for one’s neighbor and motivates us to serve. Vincent saw zeal as a spreading fire that attracts others to its light. Robert Maloney, C.M., writes, “A love that is on fire will seek to communicate itself to others. It will seek to draw others into the same wonderful mission that it is carrying out.” (Maloney, The Way of Vincent de Paul [1992], 68)

Through a Vincentian lens, the love that gives birth to our zeal must be both affective and effective. Driving the wisdom of this home, consider Vincent’s much-quoted exhortation, “Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” (Maloney, Way, 46) Working for a Vincentian institution such as DePaul, we are invited to act and respond in a compassionate, pragmatic, and creative way. In order to achieve this, affective and effective love held in faithful dialogue characterizes our decision-making processes, shapes our approach to work and our interactions with colleagues, and gives direction to our zeal.

For Vincent, the virtue of zeal also meant hard work and a commitment to furthering the principles and shared values of the community. As important as this virtue was to him, however, he also was cognizant of what can impede zeal’s benefits, namely inattentiveness and burnout. For Vincent, inattentiveness involved allowing ourselves to become distracted by trivial things. This can be difficult for us today given the constant noise of contemporary society (social media, multi-tasking, etc.). He also was wary of the dangers of burnout, once advising Louise de Marillac, “Be very careful to conserve it (your health) for the love of the Lord and his poor members and be careful not to do too much.” (Maloney, Way, 47) Vincent seemed to understand the need for a balanced lifestyle with healthy boundaries.

As part of the DePaul community rooted in the Vincentian mission, we are invited to adopt this virtue of zeal, grounded in affective and effective love, and lived out with a balance and thoughtfulness that enables us to sustain our mission over the long haul. In contemplating the meaning of zeal in your life, think of the experiences or people that exhibit a “love on fire.” What else might help stoke the flame of zeal within you?  What are the actions that you and others might take to keep the fire of DePaul’s mission burning today, almost 400 years after the Congregation of the Mission began?

Reflection by:

Siobhan O’Donoghue, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission & Ministry

 

Upcoming Events:

Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

DePaul faculty and staff are invited to a day of service, reflection, and community. On Friday, March 6th, we will gather at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus for breakfast then go out into the city to serve with and learn from our community partners. This is a great opportunity for staff and faculty to serve Chicago, grow in community, reconnect with your values, and deepen your understanding of our Vincentian mission. We hope you’ll join us! For questions, contact Tom Judge at: tjudge@depaul.edu To register go to: http://go.depaul.edu/serviceday

 

 

Zeal for the Mission

“If love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.” Vincent de Paul (CCD, 12:250)

Vincent de Paul spoke often to his followers of the importance of cultivating the virtues needed to carry out the mission of service to society’s poor and marginalized.  One of the virtues he recognized as particularly important was zeal.  We might translate zeal today as passion, enthusiasm, or energy towards a cause or goal.  With the dawning of the new academic year, how do you hope to experience the “ray of zeal” this quarter?