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.