Let us be honest with ourselves—we are angry. A cursory review of social media substantiates this.
There is a limitless list of reasons why we are angry. We can point to COVID-19, economic hardship, politics, Church scandals, and theological grievances. We might be angry over less big-picture concerns, including strife among family members, friends, and neighbors.
But we should not allow anger in itself to be an occasion for concern, nor does it warrant an immediate need to visit the confessional.
Anger is an emotion, one of several human emotions which include joy, sorrow, hunger, and fatigue. Anger is a reaction to a person, situation, or event that causes us pain.
We are angry because we feel wronged. To deny our anger would be to deny our pain, which prevents us from experiencing God’s healing love. Denying our anger might also enable an injustice to continue.
Anger, in and of itself, is not a sin. Jesus Himself expressed anger toward the moneychangers in the temple (cf. Matthew 21:12-13), the Scribes and Pharisees (cf. Matthew 23:1-39), and even His disciples (cf. Luke 9:41).
Like Jesus, we may experience righteous anger, which Clement Harrold recently wrote about in Crisis.
St. Paul distinguishes between the emotion of anger and the sin of anger.
“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26).
Paul’s words support that anger is a natural and healthy emotion. What we choose to do with our anger can lead us toward God or away from God.
Anger is a response to hurt or injustice. But if we respond with hurt or injustice, we are perpetuating sin.
For instance, we can be angry about TLM restrictions, but if our anger leads us to calumny or detraction, we are choosing to hurt in response to being hurt. If we truly believe Jesus is our Lord, then when we are hurt, we will go to Him for healing as opposed to taking the matter we are angry about into our own hands.
Bringing Christ into the pain allows us to respond more graciously. We can acknowledge the injustice while choosing a Spirit-led response.
I reached out to Crisis editor-in-chief Eric Sammons shortly after the release of Traditionis Custodes to express my prayers for him and all TLM devotees who have experienced pain and frustration with this motu proprio. I was moved by his response: Sammons acknowledged that it is hard to not give into anger, but he put his faith in the prayers, fasting, and sacrifices that many in the Church are doing in response to this decision. Turning to Jesus amid pain and frustration is always the right decision.
Similarly, toward the end of Dr. Taylor Marshall’s response to Traditionis Custodes, Dr. Marshall exhorted his viewers to pray a Hail Mary for Pope Francis and an entire Rosary in the face of this situation. I was also moved by this response. Dr. Marshall justifiably could have chosen a different response motivated by anger; but, admirably, he chose a more peaceful resolution.
We can be tempted to vent our anger on social media. This is becoming the commonplace medium of transmitting one’s passions. Instead of using our mobile devices, I would like to direct us to a more ancient path to dealing with anger.
The Desert Fathers offer us insight into the emotion of anger and how to respond in a way that does not disturb our union with God.
Evagrius Ponticus gives us the following reflection on anger:
The most fierce passion is anger. In fact it is defined as a boiling and stirring up of wrath against one who has given injury—or is thought to have done so. It constantly irritates the soul and above all at the time of prayer it seizes the mind and flashes the picture of the offensive person before one’s eyes. Then there comes a time when it persists longer, is transformed into indignation, stirs up alarming experiences by night. (Praktikos 11)
The wrath that stirs up within us as a result of anger can become poisonous to our soul. If we fan the flames of this wrath, we not only risk hurting someone else but we harm ourselves by allowing the toxicity of wrath to invade our soul.
Instead of fomenting the wrath, Evagrius prescribes the following remedy to prevent anger from devolving into sinful behavior:
Reading, vigils and prayer—these are the things that lend stability to the wandering mind. Hunger, toil and solitude are the means of extinguishing the flames of desire. Turbid anger is calmed by the singing of Psalms, by patience and almsgiving. (Praktikos 15)
Prayer and discipline calm the soul and prevent anger from overtaking us with toxicity.
Lastly, let us reflect on the latter portion of Ephesians 4:26: “do not let the sun set on your anger.”
As Evagrius alluded to, if anger is not properly dealt with, its toxicity can overtake us and harm our soul. Letting anger stir in us gives it more power to become destructive. If we do not name and cast out the growing flame of anger when we experience it, particularly if we let the anger fester overnight and into the next day, the toxicity of anger can turn into resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, and hatred.
Sleep is an important time not only to refresh the body but the mind and soul. Even while we are asleep, anger can dominate within us while our defenses are down. As I wrote in “Night Vigil” that the Holy Spirit can do much work in us in the middle of the night, the evil spirit can also do much damage to us if our spiritual defense is vulnerable by harboring rather than confronting anger.
I recommend that before we turn in for the night, we spend a few minutes reflecting on our day. Ask Jesus to reveal the day through His eyes, to show us where we were walking with Him and where we fell short. If there is anyone we have hurt, we can seek from Christ the grace to repent and make amends. If there is anyone who has hurt us, we can implore our Lord for the grace to forgive that person.
We can ask the Spirit to free our hearts from any lingering anger or anxiety so that we can enter into the night more freely with the peace of Christ. When we arise the next morning, we can begin our day with gratitude, confident that Jesus is with us and the burdens of the previous day are behind us.
By doing this, we can be angry, and by the grace of God we can prevent anger from leading us to sin. Rather, we can use anger to work for righteousness against an injustice and forgiveness toward the one who has wronged us. Both of these actions lead us to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ and thereby grow in union with Him.
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