It’s always good to be on fire, burning with religious fervor, driven, active, fully inspired, etc. But let’s see to it that we do not fall into fanaticism and bitter zeal. We have to learn to distinguish between the two that, in these times, can be confusing since the line between them is often blurred.
Christ expressed such fervor when he said: “I have come to ignite a fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!…” (Lk 12,49-50)
If we are to be true followers of Christ, we should also have such fervor and zeal. It’s a fervor and zeal that comes from authentic love, the love that comes from God and not just our own brand of love, or a love that is a product of worldly ideologies alone.
Because of the love-inspired fervor and zeal, we would be willing to make sacrifices, even great, extraordinary ones, just tocarry out the dictates of that love. A person in love is always hot, zealous, on the move. He is never just cool, though he also knows how to be calm.
Consider some pertinent words of St. Paul who said: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
“Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly. I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9,24-27)
Yes, we are meant to be zealous and fervent in our life, to be driven in anything that we do. Things have to be done with gusto, with the abiding mentality to “carpe diem.” Away with passivity, with complacency, with just mindlessly flowing with the tide. But we have to make sure that our zeal is righteous, not bitter, with a clear 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. It may pursue a valid cause, working for truth and justice, but without taking care of the appropriate means.
Fanaticism and biitter zeal make a person hasty and reckless in his assessment of things. It makes him fail to consider all angles, to listen to both sides, so to speak. He is prone to imprudence.
Inflammatory, incendiary words are his main weapons. Being belligerent is his style. He relishes in rousing controversies and sowing intrigues. He’s actually not as interested in looking for the objective truth and justice as carrying out his own personal cause.
We have to avoid bitter zeal, since it does not come from charity and mercy, but mainly from pride and a sense of self-righteousness. It may be a zeal that can produce some fake forms of success and victory, but it actually produces more harm than good on everyone. It is a zeal that has no proper resources to handle unavoidable defeats, setbacks and disappoints in life. It wants to win always, to gain points.
The love-inspired fervor and zeal knows how to deal with all the negative elements in our life. It knows how to suffer and to live abandonment in the ever-wise providence of God. It knows when to move fast and when to move slow. It manages to work under all sorts of weather and seasons. Fanaticism and bitter zeal miserably fail in this department.*