Last month, popular conservative writer and Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher announced his departure from Catholicism and entry into the Orthodox Church. He issued a long and moving statement explaining his decision on his Web log. In short, the pain of being on the front lines of the sex-abuse scandal (as a journalist) coupled with the rampant heterodoxy of the modern American parish slowly pushed him away from the Church. Perhaps his Catholic faith was too intellectual, he said, whatever the case, he was ill-equipped to handle the spiritual toll of seeing scandal, sin, and corruption at the very heart of Christ’s body.
Sadly, many Catholics have taken Dreher’s move as an opportunity to judge his soul, intellect, personal character, and eternal destination. I’ll not do that, and I’m ashamed of those who have. Indeed, I don’t want to say much about Dreher at all—while I’m sad to see him go, I don’t consider it my business to evaluate his spiritual life. Rather, I was struck by one specific point he raised in his piece:
The pursuit of justice is a wonderful and necessary thing, even a holy act. But I became so tormented over what had happened to those children at the hands of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy that I could see nothing else but pursuing justice. And my own pursuit of justice allowed me to turn wrath into an idol. . . . Over time, the anger, and my inability to master it and put it in its place, corroded the bonds that linked me to Catholicism.
I can relate to Rod’s dilemma, having worshipped the same idol myself; I doubt I’m alone in that. The fact is, there’s a lot of anger among faithful Catholics today, and much of it is justified. I get angry when a music minister turns the liturgy into a free-form jazz exploration, or when a pastor launches into a heretical (or merely stupid) homily, or when a bishop fiddles around while his diocese slides into neo-paganism. And, of course, when much of the American hierarchy ignored the numerous warning signs of a sexual crisis . . . well, righteous anger was the only appropriate response.
But the Christian cannot stop there. Anger, like bodily pain, is a symptom—a sure indication that something is wrong somewhere. Maybe there’s a problem in the Church, or in the heart of the one who is angry. Either way, a good measure of objective introspection is called for. The gospel, after all, is a message of joy, not rage. When we succumb to the temptation of anger—and it is tempting—we close ourselves off from the peace and happiness that Christ brings. No Christian can be satisfied with that.
A word of advice—and this comes from painful personal experience: If there’s an ecclesial matter that makes you angry, and you cannot find a way to move beyond that emotion, then separate yourself from the matter, at least for a time. Periodic disgust has a way of turning permanent. If you’ve found yourself in the middle of the liturgical battles, for example, and have become embittered as a result, take a step back. The fight is important, but your spiritual life must take priority. Be wary here: The Enemy will try to convince you that should you withdraw from the fight—even temporarily all will be lost. Don’t fall for it. The devil has a way of turning the best motives into intellectual pride.
There’s much in the Church today that should cause anger. But if we’re going to take seriously the absolute sovereignty of God, we must acknowledge that there’s a reason He allows it. We do not worship the mushy gods of the New Age, or the enfeebled deity of Open Theism. The Christian God is robust—all knowing, all seeing, all powerful. And vengeance is His.