by Donald F. Miller, C.SS.R., 1950’s
Part Two is here.
Long before a child has gone to school and learned to read and write, he has learned much about anger. No doubt he has seen parents displaying anger toward each other and to other adults.
At times this adult anger has been directed toward the child himself. The young child has seen expressions of anger among his playmates. Most likely he has also demonstrated his childhood ability to become very angry in certain situations.
A newly ordained priest will have to spend only a short time in the confessional before he realizes how universal a problem anger really is. Brothers and sisters confess angrily fighting with one another. Husbands and wives release feelings of anger toward the person they should love the most.
Beyond the family there are displays of anger throughout the community and in the business world. Neighbors can’t get along. Employers are angered by their workers. Employees become upset with their employers.
Anger is one of the biggest problems in daily living. It harms not only the angry person himself but it inflicts pain on many others as well. There are few vices that are more widespread yet are so readily excused and defended. People can think of a hundred reasons to get angry and hundreds more to justify the anger they have shown.
Anger crops up everywhere. Husband and wife find themselves expressing impatience and anger toward each other. Parents react angrily toward their children and brothers and sisters toward one another. Anger then reaches outside the home to include relatives, neighbors, and fellow-workers.
Just as a person grows in size and image, so too does one’s anger grow. An angry little boy grows up to find himself with a man-sized anger. Anger never remains at the same level. It grows. Unchecked, anger can begin to rule a person completely.
From the start it should be noted that there is an important distinction to be made between feelings of anger and sins of anger.
Every human being in the world, except perhaps the rare few who are so temperamentally pliable and unassertive that they want peace at all costs, will at some time feel impatient with others or be tempted to a bitter or angry retort or be carried away by interior feelings of resentment toward someone.
Such feelings are not sinful if they are kept from appearing in one’s external conduct in any way or from becoming a deliberate desire that the other person be hurt in some way as a result of one’s anger. To avoid sins of anger takes a great deal of self-discipline and the help of God’s grace.
The sin of anger is chiefly a sin of expression; a person manifests ill will toward another person. It can be momentary or it can last a lifetime. It could even be a sin if the anger were not expressed but just remained a firm desire.
There is a sharp distinction to be made between the sin of anger and reasonable, forceful attempts to correct others who are subject to one’s authority. Recall the proper anger of Christ as he made a whip and chased the money changers out of the temple turning over their stands and tables (See Jn 2:13-17).
Remember also the strong words of Jesus when Peter was showing his pride and his ignorance as Jesus spoke of his own death. (See Mk 9:33 where Jesus says, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’)
Anger is actually defined as the disordered desire to correct or punish someone. It may be disordered because the correction or punishment administered is clearly motivated by passion or fury. It could also be wrong if the methods used (mental cruelty, cursing, physical abuse, violence, etc.) are sinful in themselves and capable of doing more harm than good.
The duty of correcting others is carried out only when reason, not passion, motivates the action. The words and actions used must be designed to help and not hurt the person being corrected.
Once these initial distinctions have been made about the problem of anger, several forms of anger can be noted. They include thoughts, words, and actions. Most of them are slight faults.
Even in anger, people do not often intend to seriously hurt the one who has provoked them. Yet there are cases where the anger is either so intense or so prolonged that it can be quite a serious matter.
The fact that many of these faults of anger are not serious should not lessen the desire to overcome them. If these simple faults go unchecked, they are sure to grow and could lead to serious sins.
It is offenses like these that destroy the peace and harmony of the home, that strain relationships with relatives, that disrupt the smooth running of a business, and that divide the local community.
“Modern mothers have been relying on psychology books to interpret child behavior for so long now that if all the psychology books were burned to a crisp, few mothers could relax with the conviction that God’s love, the maternal instinct, and divine grace could take their place. What we all — little or big — want is God; if we do not realize it, however, we choose many ignoble things in His place. And if we want to teach children to be good with a goodness that’s lasting, we must teach them to be good for the love of God.”
Mary Reed Newland, How to Raise Good Catholic Children, 1954
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In the words of this humble seventeenth-century lay Carmelite, “we must trust God once and for all and abandon ourselves to Him alone.” This difficult task necessarily requires perseverance and continual conversation with God in all activities great and small: “speaking humbly and talking lovingly with Him at all times, at every moment, without rule or system…” In reading these conversations, letters, and spiritual maxims, we learn the key to endless joy.
In short, this little spiritual classic — in its fresh, contemporary English translation — renders the simple wisdom of Brother Lawrence accessible to every Christian who yearns for the fullness of life….