Focus Your Anger

(Homily for Third Sunday of Lent, Year B)

All of us have felt the sting of someone else’s anger. And, all of us, acting in wrath, have done things which we later deeply regretted. Anger, says the Catechism “is a desire for revenge.” (#2302) Both St. Paul and Our Lord warn us against anger. 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)

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!”

I would hate to be the object of Jesus’ anger. When I was a student in Rome, I often visited the Sistine Chapel. It contains Michelangelo’s famous depiction of the Last Judgment. The painting shows Jesus with arm uplifted, indignant at what human beings have done to one another. Michelangelo captured that aspect of Jesus. For sure, Our Lord reveals himself “gentle and humble of heart” toward the repentant sinner, but he will blaze against those who attempt to justify wrongdoing.

The anger of Jesus suggests that there may also be a time when you and I may rightly give expression to that emotion. Before explaining how we might use our anger, I would like to make a couple of cautions. First of all, as I stated at the beginning, we need to recognize that most of the time our anger is hardly noble, but simply the “desire for revenge.” That urge to get back at the other person is something we should acknowledge for what it is – a satanic temptation requiring God's grace to turn away from. Second, none of us can exercise anger in the same way Our Lord did. Completely sinless, he could direct his anger like a laser beam. You and I must always include an additional target – our own sins. Our anger should alert us not only that something is wrong outside of us, but within us as well. Is it not a little suspicious how quickly we can pick up on the other guy's faults, his arrogance and double dealing? Perhaps those faults mirror things we do not like to face in our own hearts. As we all know, when we point the finger at the other guy, at least three point back at us.

With those two caveats, I would like to say something about righteous anger – or as I would prefer to call it, focused anger. I remember a Catholic psychiatrist who told me, “Anger is a good emotion.” He didn’t mean flying off the handle or shouting, but using that powerful emotion to achieve a good purpose. My problem is that when I get mad, I often express it in the wrong way or in front of the wrong person. I might get upset, for example, about how some representative of the Church abuses his position to mislead others.* Instead of doing something positive to address the problem, I make a sarcastic comment to my friends. It sours the atmosphere and winds up distancing us from the Body of Christ. How much better if instead of dissipating that anger, I could use its tremendous energy to bring about genuine renewal?

To illustrate how a Christian can channel his anger, I would like to give an example from the life of William Wilberforce. You may have heard of Wilberforce, the man who lead the movement to abolish the slave trade. Hearing about the suffering of slaves in crossing the Atlantic, a tremendous rage filled his heart. He did not, however, give in to a common temptation: 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.” To an unbeliever this language seems overblown. For a Christian it is a simple statement of facts.

Avoiding both self-righteousness and cynicism, Wilberforce made a decision that he would use every ounce of his energy to end the slave trade. When he was tempted to despair - as often happened because of his poor physical health - his faith in Christ kept him going. He probably did more than any other man to eliminate a terrible mistreatment of fellow humans. His Christian faith enabled him to powerfully direct his anger. At the close of his life he saw his country take the lead in ridding the world of slave trafficking.

You and I are unlikely to accomplish anything so monumental. Still, we can use our anger to a good purpose. For Wilberforce to topple something so deeply entrenched as slave commerce, it required that thousands of others join their energy to his. You and I can do our part to overcome the terrible evils of our day. St. Paul points the way: “Be angry, but do not sin.” (Eph 4:26) In other words, focus your anger. May this season of Lent help us receive the grace to do so.


*For some dramatic evidence, see: Catholic college sites link to Planned Parenthood (Seattle's local "Catholic" university also promotes Planned Parenthood's abortion agenda)

Final Version

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

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

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

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