Anger and other Assorted Emotions


Dylan has some excellent posts this morning regarding anger and its expression. I quote from one of them below to start my own reflections, because the points hit very close to home.

I've been pondering in recent days these issues of righteous anger vs unrighteous anger, thwarting injustice with a terrible swift sword, not wanting to be martyred or crucified or even offended in the more quotidian pedestrian ways. Of course, righteous anger exists. But I've been terrible throughout my life at "calibrating" the anger -- making it fit the provocation, or even defeating the provocation by a gracious sweetness of temper -- going overboard is so much easier, and more immediately satisfying!

I guess part of what I 'm going to do is go into broken record mode. I do this not so much for my audience, whom I assume must be much less dense than me (otherwise they would be writing this and I would be reading it) but for myself, as I need the constant reminders and occasions of remembrance. I wonder whether it is possible outside of Jesus Himself to have truly righteous anger. What are the sources of anger? I see generally two--one is fear, the other is selfishness. Our righteous indignation, if we dig far enough, may have much to do with someone getting away with something that we ourselves would like to do but feel too bound by laws and rules to get away with. I am not stating this categorically, but I do know from personal experience, I am most angry when I am thwarted in some desire or design. I am most judgmental when someone isn't doing something "by the book." Which is odd, because I don't do everything by the book. However, if someone stands through the eucharistic prayer, or refuses to exchange the sign of peace, I find a mild glow of anger and judgment developing. Why should I, is this righteous anger, or is this feeling slighted? I don't know for certain, but my suspicion, for myself, is that all anger can be sinful. But anger, like love, needs consent of will, and perhaps even a demonstration before it becomes an occasion of sin.

Two of Josemaria Escriva's "Seventeen Evidences of a Lack of Humility" are:

to argue with stubbornness and bad manners whether you are right or wrong

to give your opinion when it has not been requested or when charity does not demand it.

both of which are likely to occur in an occasion of anger.

If anger springs from fear, the sinfulness is, perhaps less, but the root problem remains.

So, having concluded that most occasions of anger are for me sinful or near occasions of sin, what then can I do about the root problem? What is the root problem?

I believe, as with almost all sinful behavior the root problem is attachment to the wrong things. We prize something above Jesus Christ--self, possessions, ideas, whatever. Jesus Christ is not at the center and through our attachments we make ourselves angry people. One of the attachments that is most difficult to eradicate and probably the most sensitive with respect to anger is our self-image. When someone challenges that image of self we are likely to become furious. When they challenge our authority, our integrity, our values, we are up in arms. But, if our center is correct, they can challenge Jesus all they want to and it would be like fighting the breeze. Eventually, they will have to surrender.

Most of the great Saints did not spend their time flying into furies at every slight or action. Perhaps there were a few who did so. But anger is not one of the traits of the saints. I'm convinced that part of this is because they have become detached from their image of self. If someone accuses them of something, they accept it and move on, seeking to make amends for the fault, real or imagined, before God.

So, the remedy to anger--develop detachment. Look at your self and see it for what it really is--a small, sinful, puling, angry, unkempt, screaming brat. Okay, I know most of you are not, but unfortunately, I spend far too much time in that child's body. I used to think it a virtue. I would become angry every time my sense of justice was challenged. Now I realize that I became angry because my personal authority was being denied.

Detachment--how to cultivate it. Well, God did give me the gift of fatherhood, and there is a place I can start to focus attention. When my small son pushes at the envelop of authority, how do I react? Let's be kind and say that I need work in that area, and it is a place I can start to practice detachment.

Obviously detachment is more than practice. It is something we grow into by loving Someone other than ourselves. In that love, we seek His grace and mercy more than we seek our own ends. So by constant prayer and constant practice, we grow in will to be what God has made us.

Detachment is utterly necessary to our assumption of identity in Christ. We cannot become everything we were meant to be unless we allow God to work in us and to show us why He loves each of us. We are each His own Son. We are in fact images of Christ, and God can see than in us no matter how thick the smoke screen we try to place between us. That is the reality that God is trying to bring forth. And because all good things reside in their fullness in Christ, though each of us is an exact, if distorted, image, not one of us is a complete, full image. Thus, when His beauty is brought forth, we will be unique in our identities. I should not strive to be St. John of the Cross, St. Therese, or St. Raphael Kalinowski--God already has one of those. What I need to strive for is to become St. Steven--a unique, complete, identifiable image of Jesus Christ. And that comes through letting go of anger, prayer and grace, practice of the will, and attention to detachment.

St. John of the Cross has many words of advice for us concerning how we might eventually develop detachment, but more of that somewhat later--when I have come more to terms with some of it myself.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 2, 2002 8:10 AM.

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Poetic Offering--Evening Conversation is the next entry in this blog.

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