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On Anger . . . Righteous and Otherwise


A vigorous temper is not altogether evil. Men who are as easy as an old shoe are generally of as little worth.” ~ Charles Spurgeon

In our RCIA Class this Sunday, we took the opportunity to delve deeper into Catholic Morality through the lens of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each table was assigned one of the seven deadlies at the end of last week’s class and those seated at the table who are now amongst the Elect and therefore poised to be baptized and enter into full Communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil are asked to fully define their assigned sin, find references to it in scripture, speak of their corresponding virtue ~ for pride there is humility, for envy there is kindness, for lust chastity and so on ~ while also including personal anecdotes wherein they either witnessed or even did battled with this deadly sin in their lives. These discussions can at times be humorous, other times eye opening or even heartbreaking, but always informative and thought provoking. What is it about sin that is so fascinating? As author Chuck Palahniuk once asked, “Did perpetual happiness in the Garden of Eden maybe get so boring that eating the apple was justified?”

Doubtful... but I digress.

Our table was given the topic of wrath, more commonly referred to as anger or sometimes even “rage“ in our everyday 2021 vernacular. As the conversation unfolded, everyone shared anecdotes of those times when we let our anger get the best of us. Some by their own admission struggle habitually with anger while others, praise God, have relatively little trouble at all in controlling their temper. We discussed the topic of “Anger Management,” a relatively new discipline that has nonetheless burst onto the scene in recent years. Is it merely a pseudo-science, a creative and very lucrative way to keep celebrities, professional athletes, and other mega-wealthy and connected members of our society from having to suffer more tangible consequences for their illicit misbehavior or was their genuine value in it? We discussed those times when we managed to keep our emotions in check during difficult situations. Anger, after all, is a natural human reaction. Sometimes it’s well justified. Which brings us to today’s Gospel (John 2:13-25), that fateful day wherein Jesus “cleansed the temple.”

A story captured in all four Gospels, Bishop Barron explains in his morning meditation that “Jesus is prophetic to the depth of his being, and his prophetic vocation will manifest itself in all of his speech, gestures, and actions. This entails that his confrontation with fallen powers and dysfunctional traditions will be highly focused, intense, and disruptive.” That this act of Jesus the warrior flowed from the depth of his prophetic identity,”Barron points out, “is witnessed to by the author of John’s Gospel: "His disciples recalled the words of scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me."

Jesus’ cleansing of the temple was much more however than a mere display of anger. This was the symbolic crumbling of the Old Temple which was to be replaced by the New Temple, Jesus Himself, who promises to be with us until the end of time. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus warns those in his presence, “and in three days I will raise it up,” a clear foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. Was this final shocking act by Jesus what ultimately persuaded the Sadducees and Pharisees to call for his unjust execution? Many New Testament Scholars believe so.

In her recent essay Christ Was Cancelled First, author Elizabeth A. Mitchell explains that in accepting his fate, death on a cross, Jesus “chose to be eliminated from the earth, from the powers that be, from acceptance by the very creatures He had loved and formed from dust. Willingly. Lovingly. As the preferential path of true meaning and power in His Almighty plan.”

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We are living in incredibly strange times. Our airwaves are filled with lively debates regarding the gender of a plastic toy potato. Biological men, who suddenly refuse to believe that they are in fact biological men, are now free to compete in women’s sports, courtesy of the equally-confused and disordered politicians who have inexplicably garnered the power to fully indulge them in their delusion. Everything ~ and I mean everything ~ offends someone. As I stood on line at the supermarket yesterday morning and glanced down at the candy rack where I happened to notice a bin containing Payday candy bars, I couldn’t help but wonder if they too would need to be re-named or even “cancelled” for fear of offending the unemployed.

Is righteous anger acceptable in the face of such brazen, in-broad-daylight assaults on the truth? Quite frankly, for the genuine follower of Jesus, it’s a requirement. But how do we deal with wrath gone awry, the sort of unhinged and unjustified temper tantrums that we know are not of God and cannot therefore be of us?

Turning to the Saints, ordinary people who dealt with the same challenges we do, is always a good idea when one finds themselves looking for answers to their earthly ordeals. Saint Vincent de Paul for instance had to work very hard to overcome his tendency toward anger and contentiousness. He once even said that, without the grace of God, he would have been “hard and repulsive, rough and cross.” Saint Francis de Sales once claimed that it took him more than twenty years to learn to control his temper. When faced with an upcoming encounter with someone who typically stirs our anger, we should of course always pray first, seeking the gifts of patience, peace of mind and especially self control, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Asking the Holy Spirit to give us the right words, a promise you may recall that Jesus made to his disciples (Matthew 10:19, Mark 13:11, etc), can help defuse a potentially explosive situation.

The mighty but gentle St. Thérèse of Lisieux advises us, “When you are angry with someone, the way to find peace is to pray for that person and ask God to reward him or her for making you suffer.” As Father Joseph Esper explains in his book Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Pribkems, “We don’t usually think of it this way, but those people who anger us are doing us an unintentional favor by allowing us to grow in patience, so we should try to be gentle with them.”

The Lenten Season offers us the opportunity to step back and pursue true virtue in our lives, in this case that of emotional temperance and self control as it relates to a natural emotion that can quickly morph into a misguided passion. Give it to Jesus and let him work. Peace is his wish for you, his gift to you. And not as the world gives, does our Lord Jesus give (John 14:27).

“Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” ~ James 1:19-20)

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