June 25, 2013
This post is linked to Sunday Snippets.
Getting angry – who hasn’t? Especially getting angry with those we are closest to and who are most likely to act in ways that seem designed to trip our triggers. Some family members just can’t get together without blow-ups, some of which lead to physical violence. Some neighbors carry grudges against other neighbors and taunt them in various ways. Opposing organizations heave insults at one another in an attempt to diminish each other in the eyes of the public. Then there are blog comboxes that host innumerable ugly words.
Anger seems to be one of the easiest emotions to kindle and one that leads to resentment and a desire for revenge on others, a very dangerous situation. How seriously Jesus views anger and its outward expression in epithets hurled at one another should give all of us pause. The consequence of ad hominem attacks is hell if we fail to repent as we learn in the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost in the 1962 calendar.
Jesus has just finished His Beatitudes sermon recounted in Matthew 5 and told the crowd that they are the salt of the earth and light of the world. Then He announces that He is here to fulfill the Law, not abolish it and that the Law will remain until the end of time. All this leads up to the first sentence of Matt. 5: 20-24:
For I say to you that unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Scribes and Pharisees were all about externals in regard to the Law. Jesus tells us that we must be internally righteous or we will go to hell, no matter how holy we may look on the outside to everybody else. He says something related in Matt. 15:17-20 when the disciples ran to Him with the information that the Pharisees were upset that he said to them, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man: but what cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” In no uncertain terms Our Lord replied:
Do you not understand, that whatsoever entereth into the mouth, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy? But the things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and those things defile a man. For from the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man.
Anger, one of the seven deadly sins, is at the root of many sins Jesus listed in Matt. 15:19. Anger proceeds from the heart. It leads to ugly, hateful, and demeaning words. Jesus warned the crowd and warns us in Sunday’s Gospel what will happen to us if we indulge in this emotion:
You have heard that it was said to the ancients, “Thou shalt not kill”, and that whoever shall kill shall be liable to judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, “Raca” shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, “Thou fool!”, shall be liable to the fire of Gehenna.
It doesn’t seem that many people take His words seriously today with all the cursing, foul language, and violence against others we see on television, our computers, and in books, let alone what might go on in our neighborhoods or parishes.
All rash anger is murder from the heart. The word, “Raca” (Syrian) is derived from Aramaic and means “empty headed, worthless”, a prideful, scornful expression. “You fool” has similar meaning – “stupid, dull”. Getting into screaming matches where we use modern day expressions to cut someone else down, especially family members and those we must work amiably with, signals that our hearts aren’t in the right place. We are abusive and irresponsible, mean-spirited, and definitely not a source of harmony in the family of God.
Jesus thought this issue of anger was so important that he told everyone present that day in verse 23-24:
Therefore, if thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother has anything against thee, leave thy gift before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
In our lifetimes we have no doubt offended more people than we can imagine with our prideful anger and cutting words. How many times have we gone to Mass without making peace with those we have put down? Fortunately we have the Sacrament of Penance to help us break the bad habit of anger, a sacrament we must make much more frequent use of if we are to advance in virtue. And then there is the supremely difficult act of humility, that of saying, “I’m sincerely sorry for saying XYZ…” to our brothers and sisters we have been murderously angry with.
Perhaps we might reflect on Jesus’ admonishments by asking ourselves,
- Who am I angry with? Carry a grudge against? Want to take revenge upon?
- What is my motivation behind getting angry and putting someone down?
- Do I have a repetitive anger pattern with various people, or just with one or two persons?
- Do I willingly associate with persons, places, or things likely to trigger my anger when I have a clear choice not to? Do I listen to angry rap?
- How much time do I spend playing and replaying in my head the scenes and justifying my ugliness? How much time do I spend relating the situation to many others? Could I not spend this time better in front of the Blessed Sacrament, asking Jesus to guide me or doing spiritual reading, reading the Bible?
- How often do I find myself in a blind rage? Daily? Every few days? Weekly?
- What in my life am I hiding from and using anger as a cover-up for?
- Do I use anger as a way to manipulate others? Why am I being dishonest this way?
- Have I sought help from Jesus in the Sacrament of Penance often?
- What am I doing to develop a humble heart?
Hell is too horrible a place for any of us to fully imagine or appreciate. We must take Jesus’ words seriously, directing our hearts towards living the Beatitudes rather than fighting and darkening our hearts against others. Easier said than done, but Jesus is stronger than our evil inclinations. With His help, our Guardian Angel, the Blessed Virgin and all the saints, we can overcome our slavery to this capital sin. Even if it takes a life time to do it. Just remember St. Francis de Sales. If he could do it, so can we.
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R. Now and forever!
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