Conquering our Anger

Latin Mass:  5th Sunday after Pentecost
Beloved in Jesus Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, there are two different kinds of passions: the concupiscible passions, and the irascible passions. Within the irascible passions is that of anger. This is why we might say that someone is ‘irascible,’ meaning that he is easily angered.
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Anger is a passion with which many people wrestle in their lives, especially if they have a hot, choleric temperament. Our Lord warns us in the gospel today: ‘I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.’ St. John Vianney says,[i] that person who is full of anger, what terrible company he is. ‘Look at the poor wife who has a husband like this. If she wishes to prevent her husband from offending God or treating her badly, she can’t say even a single word. She must content herself with weeping in secret.
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Anger can poison families and take us from God. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul warns that anger is one of the sins that can keep us out of heaven: ‘I warn you as I have warned you before, they who do such things will not attain the kingdom of heaven.’ Gal 5;19
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Now as a mere emotion, anger is not a sin; when we see something that is wrong, or unjust – if someone is harmed, or we are insulted – anytime there is some injustice, we feel the impulse of anger: the desire to fight against what is wrong. So as an emotion, anger rouses us to oppose injustice. But now comes the moral choice: will this passion be used in an appropriate way or will it unleash hatred in our heart or inordinate words or actions?
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A strong and powerful horse is a great asset to a rider, but if it is not controlled with a bit and a harness, it can be destructive, and how often does this wild horse of anger get the best of us. The worst thing about anger is that it can cause us to, in a way, ‘lose our mind.’ If you’ve ever dealt with someone who is boiling with rage, you have surely noticed that they are not reasonable at all. The person makes wild accusations, demands excessive retaliation, and will not listen to anything you say. It is as if he has lost his use of reason.
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St. Paul says to the Philipians: ‘Watch out for the dogs.’ (Phil 3:2) Commenting on this passage, St. Thomas says, ‘it is the nature of a dog to bark from anger, not from reason.’ So unleashed anger makes us lose our good sense. As we have said, it is normal for a feeling of anger to arise in the face of injustice. If an employee sees the boss ridicule and degrade a co-worker, he should feel anger. But his reason tells him to act with prudence; glancing to God, he speaks up, in the defense of his co-worker: ‘Now Ed, John has done some very good work on this project, isn’t this a little unfair what you say?’ He uses reason to address the situation calmly. But another person, losing control, might pull out a pistol and shoot the boss! Holy Scripture says: ‘A fool gives vent to his anger, but a wise man quietly holds it back.’ (Prov 29:11)
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It is easy to see anger in the choleric person. He even looks as if he is boiling over. But other people’s anger comes out in other ways. For some, it is in the silent treatment, which can go on for days. I knew a young man who hadn’t spoken to his sister in 10 years – he was ‘teaching her a lesson.’ some lesson. There are others whose anger emerges in a passive-aggressive way. A woman is angry at her husband, and so she just happens to run the vacuum cleaner at kick off time for the game.
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St. John Vianney says, anger never travels alone.[ii] ‘It is always accompanied by plenty of other sins. He goes on: You have heard an angry father using bad language, cursing and yelling hateful things. Very well. Listen to his children; the same vile words come out of their mouths.
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‘I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be liable to the fire of hell.’
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Our Lord gives the stages of anger here. First, the passion stirs in our heart; it is not a sin yet, it is a feeling, but we must exercise good judgment, or our passion will control us.
If we give in to anger by cruel words or actions, then we certainly sin.
But the worst is when out-of-control-anger leads to contempt: ‘You fool,’ we might say. Contempt for another is to write that person off as useless. As Our Lord says, this is how anger can lead us to hell.
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Explosions in angry passion can make us regret many things. The answer really, is to calm our passions before they explode. In today’s Epistle, St. Peter says: ‘Let him refrain his tongue from evil. Let him seek after peace.’
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It is widely known that when you face a person who is angry, the worst thing you can do is respond back with anger. The Book of Proverbs says, ‘A soft answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ Prov 15:1 St. Monica had a husband always full of wrath, but her response was to be patient and calm, and pray for him.
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So if calm words by another person helps simmer down an angry person, this is what needs to happen inside of us as well. If passion begins boiling in us, we should speak to ourselves calmly, patiently: Make an aspiration to God: ‘Lord, grant me peace. Then think it through: ‘this thing that is provoking me, what is the response I wish to make, what does God want of me?’ As with all the passions, we must nip anger in the bud before it takes root. This wild horse must be kept under control from the start, and then our passions will be used effectively, for God’s glory.
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In this way we will not respond too quickly when provoked, we will know how to wait for the right moment to speak in a calm and reasoned way. This gets results that an angry response could never achieve.
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But if we wish to please Jesus in how we handle our passions, let’s see that Mary can help us. St. Alphonsus[iii] says ‘it is well, at the beginning and end of every action to say a Hail Mary; Happy are those actions that are enclosed between two Hail Marys; Then he says: ‘and in every burst of anger, always say, ‘Hail Mary. May the Blessed Virgin help us to use our passions, always for the glory and honor of Jesus Christ.

Entrust to the prayers of Mother Maria Kaupas

 

[i] Sermons of the Cure of Ars, p. 49

[ii] Sermons of the Cure of Ars, p. 49

[iii] The saint gives this suggestion at the end of one version of Glories of Mary under ‘Various practices of devotion to the divine Mother.

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