Meditations for Layfolk, by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P. a:visited {text-decoration: none;} a:hover {text-decoration: underline; background: #ffc} a:link {text-decoration: none;} a:active {text-decoration: none;} Meditations for Layfolk – Anger In itself anger is neither good nor bad. It is a passion; and though this word “passion,” like the word “anger,” ordinarily is interpreted in an evil sense, in its original significance it does not bear that meaning. Primarily, it implies the movement of our non-rational nature; that is to say, it means simply that the faculties lying partly in the body and partly in the soul (if the inaccurate expression may be allowed) are in operation. Hence, if they operate under the direction of reason and will, they are reasonable and therefore to be justified; if they obscure reason and will, they are unreasonable and to be condemned. Still, the fact that the expressions are so often interpreted in an evil sense suggests to us how very easily they can be turned to abuse. Now, therefore, we must begin by realizing that we can sin by being angry when we should not be, i.e. anger sometimes rules us, does not give the reason time to deliberate, but blinds it in the rush and fury of its movement. Instead of being instant in obedience to the will and to the reason as directing the will, it takes up an attitude of command and dictates to both. Thus in an English Chronicle we read that King John was “subject to ungovernable fits of temper.” That simple sentence reveals the whole moral significance of anger. It is an evil when it is “ungovernable,” when it “subjects” us to its dominion. The king was himself a slave, obedient and tied to the flare and flash of his own temper; and to dethrone reason is to destroy in our souls the Vicegerent of God. But this very view of reason suggests to us another, perhaps more important, idea. Not only may I sin by being angry when I should not, but I may sin by not being angry when I should be. If my reason tells me that it is right to be angry, then I disobey God when I refuse to give place to wrath; for, as the New Testament teaches, it is possible to “be angry and sin not.” Our Lord Himself, when need arose, roped together a bundle of cords and drove from the Temple those that trafficked in the House of Prayer, and down the front steps He flung the tables of the money-changers. Perhaps for most of us the fault is not that we are too angry, but that we are not angry enough. Think of the evils that are in the world, that are known to all, admitted to exist by public press and on public platform. Would they have survived thus far, had folk all shown the indignant anger of Christ? Hypocrisy, cant, and the whole blatant injustice that stalks naked and unashamed in national life may not our own weakness and silence have helped to render impotent all efforts to reduce these terrible things? We are convinced that a living wage is necessary; our mind is made up that the traffic in souls should cease; openly we repeat to each other that it is uncomfortable to hear people making their laughter out of the ideals of Christ. But what is the use of conviction or determination unless they are driven by the fire of anger? Dirty stories, uncharitable gossip, perpetual criticism; it is my meekness keeps them alive. I have got to make myself realize that anger is itself neither evil nor good, and that it can be either. Hence I must pledge myself to see how far I allow anger to rule me when it should not, and how far I overrule it when I should give it a free hand. Revenge is, of course, unchristian; the quick thought that leaps to the brain, the natural instinct that wishes to be even with an opponent, the desire to retaliate by harsh language, or clever retort, or deeply-wounding attitude of disdain, or ironical politeness, have all to be swept aside by the gentleness of Christ. The prayer of Christ for His executioners, the general spirit taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the rebuke that He addressed to Saint James and Saint John who wished to call down fire from Heaven on the villages which had refused to welcome Him all point the way of gentleness and peace. He Himself summed up the essential expression of His own teaching in words that will probably make all Christians bow their heads in shame: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another.” Even the spirit of the Old Testament, with its rigid justice of eye for eye and tooth for tooth, could yet feel that venge ance must be left to God who would Himself repay. The law im posed justice, but the individual practised mercy. But all that is to be noted here is that all this gentleness is not contradicted by teaching the need of anger. Gentleness is not a sense of weakness (for cowardice is unchristian), but of strength; and anger against injustice and hypocrisy is a sense also of strength. How often must not Christ have been angry, yet how always must He have been gentle! – text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.

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