Good Zeal

I have written quite a lot about RB 72, On the Good Zeal Monks Ought to Have, (try this post, for example), but zeal continues to fascinate, especially in others. What is it that fills some people with great energy and enthusiasm but leaves the rest of us barely capable of raising a languid eyebrow? It would be good to know, because then one might have more chance of summoning up some zeal when it is most required. On the whole, however, I think we have not so much become lazy as afraid of zeal. The announcement that the Government warning on terrorist threats has gone up a notch, from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe,’ probably won’t have made much practical difference to most of us. There will have been a slight shiver, perhaps, and a moment’s thought about the prospect of biological warfare being unleashed by IS, but most of us will have gone back to our usual concerns readily enough. We don’t understand extremist zeal, and there isn’t anything we can do about it, is there?

Actually, there is. The evil zeal of bitterness which seeks to destroy can be opposed by the good zeal, cultivated with most ardent love, which leads to God (cf RB 72.1). If we have become afraid of zeal, it is because we have got out of the habit of cultivating the kind of zeal that refuses to allow evil to get the upper hand. This zeal, as St Benedict presents it, isn’t for wimps. It isn’t what I call ‘doormat’ virtue, which isn’t really virtue at all, nor is it passive. It is an active and energetic pursuit of what makes for peace and justice, a putting Christ before all things, by people who have an eternal end in view and who can make their own the prayer with which Benedict concludes: ‘May [Christ] bring us all together to everlasting life.’ We are not helpless in the face of IS terror, nor any other kind of extremist zeal, unless we choose to be.


5 thoughts on “Good Zeal”

  1. Hm. I feel quite strongly about our response to terrorist “threats” – why do we respond at all? Why not be brave enough to refuse to be alarmed? When they drove the bomb into Glasgow airport our response is to make it well nigh impossible to yes the airport now. To my mind that means they won, they achieved their aim. Picking ourselves up and carrying as though nothing had happened would be a better response? I live about 20 miles from Lockerbie it is not that I live in a place where I might not experience a terrorist threat. I went to London with school children in tow during the height of IRA bombing in 1974. We refused to not go even though some parents were fearful. I remember when you could walk up Downing Street, when you could go plane spotting.

    Haven’t we let fear win and imprison us?

    I’m probably wrong.

  2. I suspect that the ‘zeal’ with which the news media reports a terrorist threat, and with which politicians are keen to be seen to do something about it, adds to the fear of it. Allowing our lives to be affected by that fear is a small victory for the terrorists.

    The risk to an individual, particular family or group is really quite low. Our media does not exercise the same zeal to put this risk in context.

    Our zeal, individually and collectively should be to support one-another in our zeal to continue living a normal life.

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