“In his zeal he [Elijah] reduced them to straits” – Sirach 8:2
A dear friend of mine, Gordon Zahn, was a conscientious objector in World War II and later a professor of sociology at both Loyola-Chicago, and UMass, Boston. Along with Dorothy Day, he lobbied in Rome during Vatican II for the Church to recognize the right of Catholics to conscientious objection to war. He was a co-founder of Pax Christi USA and wrote two significant and influential books: German Catholics and Hitler’s Wars and In Solitary Witness, the life of Austrian peasant Franz Jagerstatter, who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, was beheaded, and then beatified by Pope Benedict in 2007. His story was depicted in Terrence Malick’s stunning 2019 film, “A Hidden Life.”
Gordon Zahn’s life was imbued with quiet religious zeal. Unlike Elijah and John the Baptist, mentioned in today’s liturgical readings, who were fiery, in-your-face provocateurs of political leaders such as King Ahab and King Herod, Gordon’s zeal was quiet, respectful, grounded in deep religious faith and fortified by rock-solid conviction. He had a Spirit-fueled persistence no less steely and forthright as that of our biblical prophets. Zeal is a faith-based Xaverian value that animated Theodore James Ryken and his Brothers and is hopefully embraced by his present-day followers, old and young alike. Every Christian is sacramentally anointed with the gift of a faith-driven zeal that can be quiet and passionate, single-minded, and tenacious.
Are our spiritual lives still charged with that fire of zeal bestowed upon us at our baptism and confirmation and maintained and strengthen by the Eucharist?
Lord, may we, like St. Paul after his conversion to Christ-like nonviolence, be continuously filled with Your holy zeal so as to radiate the warmth of Your love to a cold, violent and indifferent world.
Brother Paul Feeney, C.F.X.
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