Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lenten Reflection: Anger, the Fourth Capital Sin

"Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." St. Matthew, 11:29.

We all admire the camel for his strength, and especially for his ability to ~ravel over the sandy desert. But the camel does have one very bad habit. He has a deep spirit of revenge: He always wants to "pay back" those who injure or hurt him, even if it is an imaginary hurt. Camel-drivers and those who use these animals a great deal in traveling through the desert, know about this fault, and have devised a queer and interesting way of keeping themselves from getting hurt.

When a driver has in some way or other made his camel angry, he immediately runs out of sight. He chooses a place of hiding near the road on which the camel will soon pass. As the beast comes by he throws down some of his clothes, and arranges them in a heap that looks like a sleeping man. Along comes the camel. He sees and smells the heap of empty clothes, thinks it is the one who hurt him, pounces on the pile, shakes every piece. and tramples all over them. When he tires of this, he walks away. The driver comes out of hiding, mounts the revenged beast, and rides away.

Silly camel! In his blind rage he could not see or tell the difference between a real man and an empty pile of clothes. He could not realize that he was hurting no one, getting even with no one, but was merely making himself ridiculous and wearing out his energies in a useless, senseless rage.

1. What a picture of the angry human being! Anger, the fourth capital sin, is a feeling of displeasure at some real or imagined injury, with the desire to remove the offending article, or punish the offending person. It is an emotion or passion that prompts us to seek revenge. It makes us want to hurt the one who interrupts or injures us, who crosses our plans or our path.

2. Anger is sinful when this urge to satisfy a spiteful feeling is not resisted. This capital sin is opposed directly to the spirit of Christ, which is the spirit of the Gospel. Anger is an offspring of offended pride. And anger appears particularly wrong as we consider it during this Lenten season, when our Lord showed such magnificent meekness, particularly during His passion and death.

3. To be sure, there is such a thing as just anger or righteous wrath, such as that shown by our Lord Himself when He drove the sellers and moneychangers from the temple, as we read in St. Luke, 19:45. But His anger was directed against the sin and not against the sinner. In that way you can tell whether your anger is justified or not.

I recall the story of a family seated at their evening meal. Everything had gone wrong for mother and dad that day. They were tired. They were on edge. The children were noisy and fussy. They didn't want to eat this and they didn't want to eat that. They spilled a glass of milk and dropped gravy on the table. Finally the father exploded. In the silence that followed the storm. four-year-old Billy turned to his father and asked meekly:

"Are you mad, Daddy?"

"No, I'm not mad;' grumbled Daddy, "I'm just full of righteous wrath."

Billy was impressed. Then he blurted out: "I want to be full of radishes, too."

Everybody laughed. The tension was broken. Often afterwards that father remembered and realized that his so-called "righteous wrath" was just "radishes." Perhaps the wrath, the petulance and peevishness you show and try to justify, is nothing else but radishes.

4. Unjust and sinful anger shows itself in many ways:
A. In quarreling: when the views, opinions and plans of others differ from those of the angry person, he is inclined to argue and quarrel. But you will notice that he does not speak so much about the value or worth of the two opinions; he rather stoops to personalities, pointing out flaws in the character, the behavior and the education of his opponent. The cure for quarreling is to discuss calmly and intelligently and justly the merits and demerits of the topic debated.

B. In cursing: cursing and swearing are an admission of weakness. They are a betrayal of uncontrolled feelings. They also betray a lack of ability to express oneself in understandable and meaningful language. Some who curse maintain that it is an outlet for pent-up passions. The fact is that it feeds those passions. Watch the angry man and listen to his cursing. He always makes matters worse. He merely manifests his anger if he curses when he stubs his toe, or misses a traffic light, or corrects the children.

C. In hatred: there is no justification for the desire to hurt another, whether it is in revenge for a real injury or for an imagined injury. Such an angry desire to "get even" is directly opposed to the command of Christ, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," St Matthew 22:39, and to the words of the Psalmist, "Be angry and do not sin," Psalm 4 :5, which St. Paul quotes and then adds, "Do not let the sun go down upon your anger." Ephesians, 4 :26.

D. By bitter language: cutting, sharp remarks, snapping, growling answers and commands, sarcastic speech, slurring whispers - all arise from an angry heart, all betray a selfish, childish heart which is upset when it does not get what it wants. Make up your mind today that you will say nothing, if you can say nothing civil or courteous, when you are disturbed or displeased.

E. By sulking or pouting: this is related to the foregoing sign of anger. Some show their displeasure by keeping tight-lipped; they betray their miserable meanness by pouting and sulking. They twist their faces, they look daggers at the offender, they wrinkle their brows and purse their lips at those who cross their plans and desires. Next time you are angry hurry to a mirror and see how unattractive it makes you. Imagine how unattractive you are in the sight of God.

F. By violent gestures and movements of the body: notice the angry snap their fingers, shake their head, grind their teeth, shake their fist, stamp their foot, and even jump up and down like an excited monkey. If you would see the angry camel of our story trampling and biting the pile of empty clothes you would laugh at him. Much more ridiculous are the actions of an angry human being. What foolish, senseless things they do when in a rage!

The pagan philosopher Socrates tells us that when he was a boy he happened upon a man who was trying to unlock a door. The key would not work. The fellow bit the key and kicked the door in his rage. Then and there the youthful thinker made up his mind never to give way to anger. He kept his resolve. He even mixed a sense of humor with it. One day his wife, a very critical and complaining creature, broke into a storm of bitterness and cutting remarks. As Socrates walked out the door, she threw a pail of water upon him. Calmly and philosophically he remarked:
"Well, after the thunder, you can expect a shower."

G. By fighting: kicking, scratching, pinching and punching, throwing anything they can reach at the offender are some ways angry people try to "get even" with those who have crossed them.
5. How can we overcome these sudden surges of displeasure, these risings of angry passion?
A. By anticipating and avoiding the occasion of them. If you are a driver who is easily excited by traffic tie-ups or the maneuverings of other thoughtless drivers, tell yourself as you get behind the wheel that you will control your feelings, no matter what happens.

B. Keep quiet when angry. The old pagans advised saying the entire Greek alphabet before saying a word when they were angry. We have all heard the wise direction, "Count ten before you talk." Better still would be to say a few prayers, especially that powerful and most appropriate one "Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine."

C. Realize your weakness in this regard, and your inclination to be "peeved" or "put out" at the least difficulty or interference.

D. Keep ever in mind the meekness and mildness of Jesus who told us:
"Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart."
E. Examine yourself daily, and give yourself a little penance for each failure to avoid anger.
6. The contrast of anger and meekness stood out strikingly in an incident that took place during World War Two, when trains were overcrowded and
usually late. A long line was waiting to get into the diner. There was grouching and grumbling and even cursing on the part of most of those waiting. They cursed the railroad, they grumbled about the hot weather, they complained about the slow service in the diner, they even glared at those coming out to show that they had taken too much time to gulp their food. They blamed the engineer and the conductor for all the delays.

In contrast to all this angry outburst, there stood near me a gentleman who was on his way to Kansas City for an important appointment in his business. He was calm and cool, unperturbed and undisturbed by the annoyances and by the complaining.

I was trying to do the same, although I was slightly displeased at the delays. We engaged in conversation. I remarked how composed he was. He smiled and told me:
"Father, I said my morning prayers, giving this day to God. I cannot control this train. I cannot make it go faster. I cannot hurry up the diner service. I am in God's hands. If I get there too late for my appointment, I'll try to take care of it tomorrow. Meanwhile I take things as they come."
When we finally arrived in Kansas City, I could not help noticing that my friend was fresh and ready for what work he could do that day, while the impatient passengers were worn to a frazzle in mind and body. You have no doubt observed the same contrast between the angry and the meek in your home, in your work, in social life, and especially in games.

Controlling one's temper is good health, good business, and good personality. It is good Christianity; nay, it is essential Christianity.

7. Meekness, the opposite of anger, is a virtue which moderates our feelings of impatience and revenge. It is a sure mark of the true disciple of Christ, because the meekness of the Master is one of the outstanding traits of His character.

Meekness makes you more like our Lord. It gives you a peace of mind beyond all price and beyond all understanding. It helps you really to win friends and to influence people. It brings success in spiritual life as well as in your work in the world. To the meek and not to the angry will go the prize, as Christ Himself promised:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth." St. Matthew, 5:4.
8. In striving to be meek and patient our best example and most moving inspiration is that of Christ Himself.
A. You have often heard the expression used with regard to some trying person or situation: "He would try the patience of Job."

Job, as you recall, suffered one affliction after another from the Lord, who caused his flocks and herds to be carried away, his land laid waste, his children swiftly killed, and himself to be struck down with the loathsome disease of leprosy.

Job did not murmur against Almighty God. He gave expresson to his patience by declaring: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job, 1:21.

Could there possibly be any greater patience than that of Job? Yes, it was surpassed by the patience of Christ. The iron hand of suffering and persecution rested much more heavily on Christ. Job lost only his material goods; Jesus gave up the indescribable delights of heaven. Job was afflicted in his property and in his health; Jesus gave up His property to be poor, and then went on to be wounded in every part of His body, went on to be loaded with reproaches and revilings, to be treated as an outcast and to end His life on the agonizing and shameful cross. In his sufferings Job had God's consolation; Jesus, in His sufferings, was denied even that, for He cried out from the cross:
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!"
Job is indeed a model of patience, but the meekness of our suffering Savior surpasses that of the Old Testament Saint.

B. Job did not complain or grumble. That was wonderful patience. But Christ, who bore much more suffering, not only did not complain or cry out, He not only kept no bitterness or ill-will toward His tormentors, He sought no revenge, although He could have wiped them out with a single word, but instead Jesus renders to them good for evil:
i. He heals the ear of the servant after St. Peter, with his hasty temper, had cut it off with a sword.

ii. Christ looks patiently and sorrowfully upon that same St. Peter when the apostle denied Him three times.

iii. Think of the patience Christ showed with the traitor Judas. Jesus knew that he was about to betray Him, yet He suffered the betrayer to eat at the same table with Him, and even, in the garden, to plant a kiss upon our Lord's cheek.

iv. According to many, Christ had a double purpose in His patience during the scourging and crowning with thorns. He not only wanted to give us an example of meekness, but He did not want to arouse the soldiers to greater cruelty and thus increase their guilt.

v. The patient can suffer alone. Christ did not permit His apostles to witness His agony in the garden, lest they be frightened needlessly. He was willing to suffer; He wanted to spare His apostles.

vi. Hanging on the cross, in the throes of death, He gave the perfect example of patience. He called upon His heavenly Father to forgive His tormentors. In the face of such unwavering meekness amidst suffering and torture, how can we grow fretful and peevish at the trifling trials and annoyances of daily life?

9. The meekness of the saints took its source and inspiration in this meekness of the Master.

A. One day the virtuous wife of St. Elzear, the Count of Ariano, in Italy, asked him this question: "Whence comes it that you are never vexed or never seem to be moved, no matter what is done or said to you?"

His reply was as follows: "How could I be angry with anyone, or complain of any wrong that is done me, when I think of the shame wherewith Christ was loaded for my sake? What torments did He not endure for my salvation? The mere thought of His sufferings, and of His surprising charity towards those who tortured Him to death, suffices to cover me with confusion, seeing that I suffer nothing for Him."

B. Early in the thirteenth century there lived in Italy a pious girl by the name of Zita. As her parents were poor she went to work at an early age for a wealthy family. She was an efficient, faithful and cheerful worker, always thoughtful of others. Never did she speak a harsh word to anyone. Her fellow-workers, on the other hand, were mean to her. Every mistake and misdeed they blamed on her. Then they took all the credit for the work which Zita had performed. Patient Zita merely smiled. Her conscience was clear. Every morning she rose before the others and attended Holy Mass. After some years the master and mistress of the house realized the true worth of their servant. They promoted her to the highest place in the household. She could have had her vengeance on those who had tormented her. Cheerfully and charitably she forgot everything. It was not long after her death that the Church declared her a saint, St. Zita, the patient servant girl.

10. Too many people, including some Catholics, have the mistaken idea that meekness is weakness, and that, on the contrary, anger and impatience are an indication of power and strength. The very opposite is the truth. Too many have the idea that patience is a sweet, sugary something reserved for the calm and quiet of the convent. They maintain that it will not wear well in the rough and tumble of everyday life. What a mistake!

Show me a man who can surrender to the bad humor of another; show me a man who can gently endure other people's faults, who can withstand an insulting, sneering glance, who can swallow his pride and petulance when preference is shown to another; show me the man who can give a soft answer to a harsh rebuke; show me the man who can remain unperturbed when refused something he thinks he deserves; show me the man who can show kindness to others, even when they oppose and annoy him - and I will show you a man who is modelled after the God-man, the Master, the meek and patient Savior.

Meekness may not make the headlines. Meekness may not win many of this world's medals, if any at all. Meekness may not seem as manly as fighting for one's rights and telling the world off, as we say. But meekness can win all the worthwhile battles of life. Best of all, it can win that eternal kingdom for which we are all struggling, the kingdom Christ promised when He said:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth." Amen.
Adapted from Lent and the Capital Sins
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1952)

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