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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | Righteous anger should motivate us to act in a positive manner

The children know when I’m becoming angry. I tend not to raise my voice, but I add a certain sense of mysterious danger to my words. The kids hear it and know they’ve pushed me too far. Usually, they make themselves scarce so Daddy can have a time-out, but every once in a while they’re in a bad mood, too, and my frustration only encourages them. It’s like a game to see when Daddy will explode. That’s when I give my wife a helpless look and she sends me out for a good, long stress-relieving run.

Those episodes have made me realize that, when we give in to anger, it’s impossible for us to fulfill our vocations. I literally need a break from being a father to get my head straight. It’s the same with work. When frustration at the office turns into simmering anger, it distracts us and leaves the job undone. When anger enters into our friendships and families, it drives us apart and ruins the relationship. Even something small like anger during the daily commute causes us to lose focus on the road.

St. John Cassian, a fourth-century monk, said that anger is similar to a deadly poison in the depths of our souls. He says that when we are angry, “We can neither discern what is for our good, nor achieve spiritual knowledge, nor fulfill our good intentions, nor participate in true life; and our intellect will remain impervious to the contemplation of the true, divine light.” In other words, anger blinds, takes our peace, robs our joy and makes us selfish.

There are times when, yes, anger is appropriate. After all, Our Lord displayed vigorous, righteous anger when He cleansed the Temple. I have to admit that, over the past month as I’ve read about scandals in the Catholic Church, I have been angry. I’ve had to ask myself if that anger is righteous or if it’s an emotion that I’m wallowing in and allowing to become a negative presence in my soul.

In reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that there are a few principles by which we can know if our anger is good or bad. First, righteous anger is directed at sin, not people. Second, it’s God-centered, meaning that we are angry on behalf of God and not from selfish motives. Third, it is combined with positive virtues, meaning the anger itself is a temporary emotion that motivates us to act in a positive manner. It gives us courage. In this way, righteous anger is soon enough revealed to be hope. We are angry because we know and believe that any injustice can and will be made right.

Anger should be a rare emotion. When we feel it, it’s a good habit to ask ourselves why we are so angry and how to combat it. If it turns out the anger is righteous, ask yourself what positive effects can arise from it.

Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have five children.

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