Chapter Seventy Two
As there is a harsh and evil zeal which separates from God and leads to death, so there is a good zeal which separates from vice and leads to God and life everlasting. Let the members, therefore, practice this zeal with most ardent love; namely, that in honor they forerun one another (cf Rom 12:10). Let them bear their infirmities, whether of body or mind, with the utmost patience; let them vie with one another in obedience. Let none follow what they think useful to themselves, but rather to another. Let them practice fraternal charity with a chaste love. Let them fear God and love their abbot or abbess with sincere and humble affection; let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ lead us all together to life everlasting.
In his beautiful 2005 book, The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders, author Mark W. McGinnis interviews the oldest living Benedictines in the United States. One of the questions he put to each elder was "What is your favorite chapter in the Rule of Benedict?" More than any other chapter, Chapter 72, was said to be the favorite.
I find much resonance within this chapter as a lifelong church goer and as a vowed member of a religious community. The first sentence rings true as a statement about every community I've ever spent time in. There is something tangible about the zeal of a group, and the difference between evil and good zeal is as apparent as the difference between a touch of blessing and a slap in the face. The evil zeal is bitterness, and it separates from God. If our life's journey was represented on a map, the zeal of bitterness would point us in the direction opposite of where God is at home. The good zeal consists of mutual honor, patience, and charity and points us precisely in the direction of God's household and our true home.
The source of these two zeals is found in the depths of our inner life, at the intersection of our emotions, desires, and will. Good zeal must be cultivated and grown within by our clear intentions, consistent effort, and by Divine Grace. Good zeal is a purse that will not wear out, our treasure stored up in heaven. Evil zeal is a storehouse in which the possessions of our false self slowly disintegrate, eaten by rust and moth (Luke 12: 33,34). We embody one zeal or the other in our lives and in our communities, and those with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to feel will perceive it clearly.