Anger, Part i
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
3rd Sunday of Lent, 1997
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, CA
It always amazes me how many people come for confession and confess that they got angry. They say, “I confess that I got angry with my husband” or “I got angry with my wife” or “I got angry with my children”. Sometimes they word it defensively: “Father, my husband makes me so angry!” or “My wife makes me so angry!” What amazes me about all this is that all these people assume that anger is a sin.
Well, I ask you: is anger a sin? If so, which of the Ten Commandments says “Thou Shalt Not Get Angry”? There’s no such commandment, because - and listen closely - you only sin when you decide to do wrong, but anger is an emotion, not a decision. Nobody ever decides to be angry. You never wake up in the morning and say to yourself, “Today I will be happy until noon, then I’ll be angry for ten minutes, and then I’ll be happy again.” It doesn’t work like that; emotions sweep over us like changing weather and nobody can predict nor control it. Anger is an emotion; anger is not a sin.
Don’t believe me? You want proof that anger is not a sin? Here’s proof. Would you agree that God is perfect? Of course God is perfect. Would you agree that sin is bad, and therefore imperfect? Of course. Well, if God is perfect and sin is imperfect, then it logically follows that God cannot sin. Would you as a Christian agree further that Jesus is the second person of the Blessed Trinity? Of course. Well, if Jesus is God and God cannot sin, then it logically follows that Jesus cannot sin. But in today’s gospel we heard how Jesus got angry at the moneychangers in the temple, and he made a whip, and beat up those guys until they ran out into the street in terror! So if Jesus cannot sin, yet Jesus did get angry, therefore anger cannot be a sin, Q.E.D.
Let me further ask you this tough question: if anger is not a sin, is it possible for anger to be a good thing, if used correctly? Is it possible for anger (like all the other emotions) to be a useful motivational force that gets our adrenaline flowing and gives us the courage to do whatever needs to be done? Is it obvious that this is a rhetorical question? Don’t answer that.
The difference between anger that makes us feel guilty and anger that we can be proud of is what we do with it. As the poet says,Anger in its time and placeSome people say that they do stupid things when they are blinded by anger. We even call it that: “blind fury” or “blind rage”. Well, no wonder they do stupid things when they’re angry; it’s because they are being used by their anger, rather than using their anger. Anger was invented by God, not by the devil. It can be a wonderful gift that prods us into action.
May assume a kind of grace.
It must have some reason in it
And not last beyond a minute.
But now listen close. Some people (maybe you) were taught during their childhood that anger is always a bad thing, and that getting angry is something that only naughty children do. What baloney! These poor unfortunate souls grow up repressing all feelings of anger, never learning how to focus it and utilize it, until one fine day without warning, WHAM, they explode with anger in a cloud of human shrapnel, and all those who witness the event are later heard to say idiotic things like, “Gee, I don’t understand it, they were always so polite and sweet and kind, I just can’t imagine what got them so angry.” 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of anger not being used properly but being swallowed and bottled up is what did it!
Dear parents, for heaven’s sake (and I mean that literally), teach your children how to use their anger, by focusing it into appropriate action, by recognizing the warning signs of approaching anger, by prudently deciding which sources of anger can be laughed off and which sources of anger should be opposed and overcome. And don’t tell me, “Oh, no, I’m teaching my child never to get angry. I’m teaching my child to be a spineless wimp that the world will step all over, so that when my child grows up and goes nuts with repressed anger and commits suicide, then I’ll be able to say, Gee, I just don’t know what happened.” Don’t tell me that or I’ll get angry!
You might say, “Father Joseph, what a terrible thing to say! Jesus said Blessed are the peacemakers!” Yeah, he did; he also said, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” Are we supposed to pick the Bible verses that make us feel good and ignore the rest? The real world is a battlefield between the forces of good and the forces of evil, and if we raise the next generation to believe that there is no evil in the world, then half of them will self-destruct with repressed anger, and the other half will rebel against us and everything else we taught them.
If evil does not make you angry, then you have no soul. I’ll probably get in trouble for giving this sermon, but we need more anger in this world, not less! More anger from good people, motivating them to reasonable action. We need more good people to get angry enough to take back our streets from the stupid gangs that add nothing to our society but anarchy and grief. During my very first Mass here at St Barbara’s, a thief ran into the back of the church, grabbed a woman’s purse as people watched, and ran off with it. You know how many people ran after him? ZERO. Nobody! If I had seen it happening, I would’ve run after him! (Picture that!) I chased two teenagers that I saw mug a guy in Mile Square Park just a few months ago; I didn’t catch them, but it made me so angry to see what they did! I also discovered that day how difficult it is to run on grass while wearing rollerblades.
What about you? What would you do if you saw something happen that made you angry? Would you pretend that you’re not angry? If so, stay away from me, because you’re a ticking time bomb. Would you say “Tsk tsk, what a shame”, and do nothing? Then you’re not using God’s gift of anger properly, and pardon me for saying it, but you’re a coward. Would you be like most people and get instantly 100% angry and cuss and swear and slam the door and kick the dog and do a bunch of idiotic things to vent your spleen? Well guess what, that’s cowardly too. But if you say to yourself, “Boy that really makes me angry, now WHAT WILL I DO ABOUT IT...” then God bless you. You’ve got brains and you’ve got courage. You can get angry around me anytime.