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Be wary of bitter zeal

Yes, we have to be most careful with our tendency to fall into bitter zeal. It’s that zeal that was rebuked by Christ in that gospel episode where his disciples suggested that fire rains on those who did not welcome them while they entered a Samaritan village. (cfr. Lk 9,51-56)

While it’s true that we should try to be always zealous in our life, we have to make sure that our zeal is righteous, holy and charitable, not bitter, with a clear and proper sense of purpose, not just aimless.

Righteous zeal is always respectful of legal, juridical and most importantly of moral standards, especially that of charity and mercy. Bitter zeal wants instant results while ignoring legal and moral requirements, let alone the requirements of charity and mercy. It may pursue a valid cause, working for truth and justice, but without taking care of the appropriate means.

Bitter zeal makes a person hasty and reckless in his assessment of things. It fails to consider all angles, to listen to both sides, so to speak. He is prone to imprudence. In the end, it’s animated by the evil spirit of self-righteousness.

Inflammatory, incendiary words are its main weapons. Being belligerent is its style. It relishes in rousing controversies and sowing intrigues. It’s actually not as interested in looking for the objective truth and justice as carrying out his own personal agenda.

Especially when we engage ourselves in matters of opinion, we have to learn to practice restraint and moderation since no one has the exclusive ownership of what is right and fair. Opinions are views that are hardly based on absolute truths of faith and dogmas. They are more expressions of one’s preferences and tastes, and therefore we should expect a wide spectrum of differences, since things depend on people’s different temperaments, backgrounds, cultures, etc.

Yes, we can have some exchanges and try to sort out these different and even conflicting opinions if only to clarify things and perhaps to eke out a most fair view with respect to a particular issue. We can attempt to have a kind of consensus.

But all these should be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect and utmost charity and delicacy. We have to avoid bitter zeal, sarcasm, irony, insults, ad hominems, mockery, vulgarity, nitpicking, fault-finding, one-upmanship, the crab mentality and the like.

If we are truly animated by Christian charity, there would be zero bitterness in our exchanges of views, opinions, and even of beliefs. True love, as St. Paul describes it, “takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13,6-7)

We just have to learn to be patient in handling whatever contradicting reactions we get from all the goodness that we may be doing. We just have to look for an alternative way in resolving issues and situations like this.

This was the case of Christ when his apostles suggested that fire rain down on a Samaritan village that did not welcome them since they were heading to Jerusalem. (cfr Lk 9,51-56) As the gospel puts it, Christ rebuked the apostles and they journeyed instead to another village.

We have to make sure that we are always burning with the zeal of love. We need to fill our mind and heart with love, and all that love brings—goodness, patience, understanding and compassion, mercy, gratuitous acts of service, generosity and magnanimity, etc.*

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