Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spirituality: Good Zeal and Wicked Zeal

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which must be fostered with fervent love: "Each should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10)." supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else. Among themselves they show the pure love of sisters and brothers; to God, reverent love; unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life....Chapter 72 Rule of Saint Benedict

Spirituality is not about religiosity. Spirituality is much more demanding than that. Spirituality is about caring for the people you live with and loving the people you don't and loving God more than yourself. Spirituality depends on listening for the voice of God everywhere in life, especially in one another and here. An ancient tale from another tradition tells that a disciple asked the Holy One:

"Where shall I look for Enlightenment?"

"Here," the Holy One said.

"When will it happen?"

"It is happening right now," the Holy said.

"Then why don't I experience it?"

"Because you do not look," the Holy said.

"What should I look for?"

"Nothing," the Holy One said. "Just look."

"At what?"

"Anything your eyes alight upon," the Holy One said.

"Must I look in a special kind of way?"

"No," the Holy One said. "The ordinary way will do."

"But don't I always look the ordinary way?"

"No," the Holy One said. "You don't."

"Why ever not?" the disciple demanded.

"Because to look you must be here," the Holy One said. "You're mostly somewhere else."

Learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes insane and always uncertain daily lives. Bitter zeal is that kind of religious fanaticism that makes a god out of religious devotion itself. Bitter zeal walks over the poor on the way to the altar. Bitter zeal renders the useless invisible and makes devotion more sacred than community. Bitter zeal wraps us up in ourselves and makes us feel holy about it.Bitter zeal renders us blind to others, deaf to those around us, struck dumb in the face of the demands of dailiness.

Good zeal, commits us to the happiness of human community and immerses us in Christ and surrenders us to God, minute by minute, person by person, day after day after day. Good zeal provides the foundation for the spirituality of the long haul. It keeps us going when days are dull and holiness seems to be the stuff of more glamorous lives, of martyrdom and dramatic differences. But it is then, just then, that Saint Benedict reminds us from the dark of the sixth century that sanctity is the stuff of Christ and that any other zeal, no matter how dazzling it looks, is false. Completely false.

Adapted from The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages by Joan Chittister, OSB

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