Growing up as a teenager in Northeast Ohio, my favorite song was “Jesus Freak” by dc Talk (see below for a link!). Its mix of rap and rock spoke to my eclectic musical tastes, and its message of standing out in the name of Christ struck a chord with my attempts to discover and identify who God created me to be.
Freak, according to dc Talk’s usage of the word, means an ardent enthusiast. If you stand for anything, stand for Jesus. If you want to be different, be different because of your relationship with Christ.
I think that being a Jesus Freak served as my training ground for leading with zeal.
Programmatically and charismatically, the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program's definition of zeal comes from Bl. Basil Moreau:
(T)he great desire to make God known, loved, and served, and thus to bring knowledge of salvation to others. (Moreau, 1856/2006)
Moreau goes on to state that zeal fills teachers with “enthusiasm, love, courage, and perseverance” and that “without it, everything falls apart” (Moreau, 1856/2006). Zeal is energy and spirit and it fuels all aspects of our ministries and lives. Zeal is the gas that puts the other dispositions into motion.
A deeper investigation into zeal uncovered for me new insights about what zeal is and how we can protect and foster it.
First, zeal, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, flows from an intensity of love. Other definitions of zeal classify it as love in action, the state of being hot or beginning to boil, or a deep affection that seeks to obtain what is loved or to remove what stands in the way (ETWN Global Catholic Network, 1998; Trinity Communications, 2021).
Put simply, zeal is love.
After driving the merchants out of the temple, Jesus’s disciples recalled the words of the Psalmist, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17 and Psalm 69:10). In other words, love for His Father and His Father’s Kingdom in heaven and on earth consumed Jesus. It directed all of His activities. It inspired His life and ministry.
Love impelled Him. Zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him.
May it consume and impel us as well.
At this point in this year, though, our supplies of zeal may be in short supply. We may feel so consumed by vaccinations and masks and mandates and policies that our zeal might seem like a faint flicker, fading ember, or even extinguished altogether.
Heads up and hearts out, though, sisters and brothers. Be encouraged.
My second new insight about zeal/love is this: the way to increase our zeal, our love for Jesus, is to increase our contact with Him. We can’t love - and truly don’t love - people with whom we do not interact.
So, interact with Jesus.
Encounter Him in the scriptures. Every day He speaks anew the words of the Gospel. Not relegated to a specific time and group of people, He has the words of eternal life and His words are meant for you and me and everyone. Allow His words to speak life to you each day.
Interact with Jesus by seeing Him in your relationships with others. We are made in the image of a Triune God; relationships, therefore, are pathways to holiness. Commune with Jesus in your words and deeds to others. Remember, where two or more are gathered in His name...
Receive Jesus in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Or, put more accurately, be received by Jesus through these celebrations. Allow Him to wrap His healing arms around you in love during Reconciliation. Allow Him to consume you as He lovingly offers you His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Let your “Amen” in response to the words, “Body of Christ” affirm your belief in His Real Presence and inspire you to become Who you receive.
In this way, let your “Amen” be your commitment to go be Christ’s Body out in the world. Strengthened and nourished by His love, His zeal, go make God known, loved, and served.
Go be a Jesus Freak. Be an ardent enthusiast of Christ, because He is an ardent enthusiast of you.
Go lead with zeal.
Go lead with love.
dc Talk (2009, February 24). Jesus Freak [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/kbB0QrBIs9k
ETWN Global Catholic Network (1998). Zeal. ETWN. https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/zeal-12796
Moreau, B. (2006). Christian Education (S. Walsh, Ed.). Holy Cross Institute at St. Edward’s University. (Original work published 1856). https://catholicliberaleducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/moreau-christian_education.pdf
Trinity Communications (2021). Catholic Dictionary. Catholic Culture. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=37230