One of my readers left a comment on a post with a link to a terrific article on zeal based on the Rule of St. Benedict. (Thanks, Preston!) I recommend it to everyone who is fighting for the faith at any level, which, of course, should be all of us. We should be "zealous" for the faith, first of all in our families, and then in our parishes, our communities, our states, our country, and our world. But, as the author points out, we need to have a holy zeal and not the "zeal of bitterness." Here's an excerpt, but I recommend the entire article:
Interestingly, St. Benedict characterizes the bad zeal as being the zelus amaritudinis, which quite literally is the “zeal of bitterness”. Reading several Benedictine commentaries on the meaning of this Rule for their communities and spirituality, what is clear is that the core of what St. Benedict calls a “zeal of bitterness” is a tendency toward the dissolution of common life. The person who is full of this zeal has a fundamental impatience with the faults of the people around him, which is a diabolical distraction from the real locus of combat, which is within. This zeal proceeds not from an other-centered focus on growth and union, but rather a covertly egocentric fixation based upon one’s resentments, disappointments, and deep pain, even if those feelings proceed from genuine wrongs.
The true motivation of the bitter zeal is not reform for the sake of the souls of the wrongdoers and the common good, but rather for the removal of pain and the feeling of outrage. This is extremely subtle, and perhaps controversial: it is similar to a parent who may pray for the conversion of a wayward child, but along the way becomes embittered because the prayer proceeds more from a desire for the removal of aggravation and worry than the true spiritual and human good of the child. All of us are susceptible to this very subtle temptation.
Of course, human beings, even Saints, can often have mixed motivations, and so it is very likely that a person may possess, despite their best efforts, both of these ‘zeals’ at the same time. Yet, the question is which zeal we wish to feed, and witch zeal we wish to ultimately dominate our thoughts and behavior. That makes all the difference.If you have a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict, why not make it your Sunday study. The excerpt in the article describes the zeal of a good abbot who gently leads his little flock acting with prudence and patience, not going to extremes, "lest, while he aims to remove the rust too thoroughly, the vessel be broken." St. Benedict also reminds us to remember our own "frailty." It's good advice. We should never let our "zeal" for the good lead us to bitterness, for the sake of our own souls and the work we wish to accomplish.
St. Benedict, pray for us: