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April 9, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. Can you explain what righteous anger is? I thought anger was one of the seven deadly sins, so how can it ever be righteous? — T.S., via e-mail.
A. The glossary at the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines anger as “an emotion which is not in itself wrong, but which, when it is not controlled by reason or hardens into resentment and hate, becomes one of the seven capital sins. Christ taught that anger is an offense against the fifth commandment.”
When Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the Temple (cf. John 2:13-22), He demonstrated a righteous indignation that was controlled by reason and was not motivated by hate or a desire for revenge. St. Paul remarked on the distinction between righteous indignation and sinful anger when he said, “Be angry but do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). In other words, when there is a just reason for indignation, don’t go to the extreme of committing sin by becoming furious over small matters or by venting rage on a person. St. Paul offers this additional advice:
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:17-19).
We must remember, however, that there is a fine line between just and unjust anger, and we must be cautious not to cross that line. St. Francis de Sales gave some good advice when he was asked how he kept so calm in the face of hostility. “I have made an agreement with my tongue,” he said, “never to say a word while my heart is excited.” He is echoed by the late moral theologian Germain Grisez in his book Living a Christian Life:
“Someone feeling even justifiable anger should regain his or her composure before offering an admonition, so that it can be given humbly, gently, kindly, and peaceably — in a word, as a true work of mercy. Admonition need not always be done by words. Gestures, actions, or a manner that goads another’s conscience are sometimes more effective. Even when words are appropriate, questions should come before assertions:
“ ‘Question a friend; perhaps he did not do it; or if he did, so that he may not do it again. Question a neighbor; perhaps he did not say it; or if he said it, so that he may not repeat it’ (Sirach 19:12-13).”
Grisez said that “questions incite reflection, and so are more likely than assertion to be effective. They also reflect the reality that in admonishing, one always addresses an apparent sinner whose internal guilt one cannot judge. It also is important to choose the right time and place for an admonition; but this should not become an excuse for evading the responsibility by requiring an ideal situation that will never occur” (p. 231).
In a recent homily about the money changers, a priest-friend said: “Our Lord is roused to a just anger, which is not to be confused with the deadly sin of wrath. Anger can serve virtue, but when it is no longer governed by reason, it can consume us and kill the life of charity in the soul. Anger is a natural passion that is aroused in us. It is an appetite, an emotional response when we see an injustice. As with our other passions and appetites, the moral question is, ‘What do we do with it? How do we act on it? How do we direct it toward a good end?’ A just anger will see an injustice and seek to correct it. On the other hand, sinful anger — wrath — introduces more disorder, more injustice.”
He said that “a just anger will always entail a proportionate response. You execute murderers, not jaywalkers. . . . Our Lord doesn’t hold a grudge, He doesn’t continue to chase after the money changers once they’re out, terrorizing them through the streets. No, He did what was necessary to correct, and no more. A just punishment is for the offender’s own good. It can bring repentance and conversion. Whenever we are angry, if justice isn’t our desire, then we have fallen into wrath. If hatred of persons replaces hatred for the injustice, then we have surely sinned.
“If God desires that all men be saved, then so should we! Which doesn’t nullify the appropriateness of severe punishment for severe crimes. What a just society does is take revenge out of the hands of the aggrieved and place it in the hands of an impartial legal system. A just legal system is less likely to get carried away with unchecked passions and punish disproportionately to the crime. That’s the idea anyway.
“We’ll see how that pans out in the coming years, as the whole culture descends into vindictiveness. We can all work on how we express our anger in a holy way in our interactions with each other, avoiding rages and violence and profanity; avoiding grudges and resentments and pridefulness. But what about…how Catholics should channel their anger justly when a society’s major institutions become unjust — from the academy, to legislatures and courts, to the entertainment industry and the press. These things do happen in history, and we are not immune. Many are justifiably angered by the deterioration they see in our society and the malice of those behind it.
“But the idea of correcting those injustices can seem overwhelming on that scale. The tyranny of political correctness intends it to be overwhelming in order to force our submission to the deterioration. Just yesterday I came across a quote from a cultural commentator who writes under the name Theodore Dalrymple. His words are illuminating, using the example of a wicked political system we’re all acquainted with. He said, ‘Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse, when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity.
“ ‘To assent to obvious lies is to cooperate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect, and is intended to.’ [His point about humiliation being the aim of politically correct propaganda rings true. How else to explain a culture arguing over Dr. Seuss? That’s not something serious societies do.]
“How do we begin to use our anger justly?” our priest-friend asked. “Simply refuse to tell the lie. Speak the truth, in season and out of season. It is definitely out of season now. Refuse to adopt the enemy’s language. Overturn his tables, scattering his ideological currency of a gender theory that encourages the mutilation of God’s creative work, even in children; the currency of so-called women’s rights which claim the right to kill the innocent child in the womb; the currency of calumny that is oh-so-quick to smear and cancel the dissident as a bigot of one variety or another.”
He concluded by saying that “if somebody asks what your preferred pronouns are, you don’t give a serious answer to an absurd question. When the Emperor is wearing no clothes, you laugh at him. You don’t talk about how well-dressed he is. If we see an injustice and consent to it out of fear, then our lack of anger is no virtue, it is vicious, and self-enslaving. In our righteous anger, we would do well to stop giving our money to businesses, our votes to politicians, and our children to schools that would happily send us to the Gulag tomorrow. It all seems so impossible — until it isn’t.
“And by the way, our righteous anger should be hottest for those clerics in the Church who sell out Christ for a few coins. In all that we do, we need to be on the side of Heaven. Because while we might struggle to make this world a more just place, Christ will not struggle when He comes again. His mercy is not for those who hold His justice in contempt. His mercy is for those who fight the good fight with a sincere heart.”

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