Focus Your Anger

(Homily for Third Sunday of Lent, Year B006)

This Sunday’s Gospel calls our attention to an emotion many of us do not like to face: anger. The Catechism defines anger as “a desire for revenge.” St. Paul lists it among the “works of the flesh” which can exclude one from the Kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19) Jesus says that “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:22)

All of us have felt the sting of someone else’s anger. And all of us, unfortunately, have done and said things in anger which we later deeply regretted. Anger can do great harm in this life – and the life to come. In our daily life we should obviously avoid anger and, when it does emerge, do our best to control it. Nevertheless, as today’s Gospel shows, some circumstances require an expression of anger. Jesus must have burned with a white hot fury as he knocked over tables and, with a whip, threatened (or perhaps even struck) merchants and their animals. “Get out of here! This is my Father’s house. You do not belong here!”

This is sometimes call “righteous anger” or to put it another way: focused anger. This was not the first time that Jesus observed the Temple being profaned, but he decided now was the time to act. He knew full well the consequences of his actions. We will soon relive those events them when we celebrate Holy Week. In spite of the terrible punishment which awaited him, Jesus decided it was time to act.

A Catholic psychiatrist once told me, “Anger is a good emotion. Use it.” Focusing anger is something like the Grand Coulee Dam. Many of you have seen that enormous concrete structure which holds back a huge reservoir of water. Before the dam was built, the Columbia River used to flood, then recede. The dam enables us to use the water for irrigation and its power to light cities such as Seattle.

Like the Grand Coulee Dam, we need to control a reservoir of anger and put it to work for us. An example of this is the British politician, William Wilberforce. You may have heard of Wilberforce, the man who led the movement to abolish the slave trade. As a young man he heard about how the slaves were treated in crossing the Atlantic: chained below the decks in filthy conditions, like cattle. Hearing about this, a rage filled his heart. From that point on he dedicated his life to abolishing the slave trade. He was effective because he avoid two common traps. The first is the temptation of self-righteousness. Wilberforce explicitly rejected an approach which would exalt himself and demean others. On first introducing anti-slavery legislation he said, “I mean not to accuse anyone, but to take the shame on myself…We are all guilty. We ought all plead guilty.” Unlike Jesus our anger cannot be exclusively directed at the sins of others; we have to include our own sins. The second trap which Wilberforce avoided was taking his anger out on the wrong people. He would often get mad at what other politicians had done, but when he came home he would not speak about that in front of his children. He knew if he let out his anger in front of them, it would cause them to become bitter and cynical. Instead, following the example of Jesus, Wilberforce focused his anger where it would do some good. He was amazingly patient. It took several decades, but he lived to see his country abolish the slave trade and take the lead in eradicating it from the entire world.

Anger is a good emotion, but we need to direct it properly. That should be your homework for these remaining weeks of Lent. Come before the Lord with your hurts, resentments, anger. Ask the Lord what part needs to be healed, what part you must ask forgiveness from him and others. Then take that great energy, join it Jesus and the Christian community – and He will enable you to do much good for others.


Earlier Version

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Third Sunday of Lent, Year B 2012: The Coming Tsunami
2009: A Jealous God
2006: Focus Your Anger
2003: Responsible for Their Own Demise
2000: What Will Last?

Year A (RCIA):
Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

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