I read a book a while back that I've talked about often called Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders. In it are profiles of and interviews with the oldest living Benedictines in the United States. One of the questions put to each elder was "What is your favorite chapter in the Rule of Benedict?" More than any other chapter, Chapter 72, On the Good Zeal Which They Ought to Have, 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:
"Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting."
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.