Homily of Lent (and anytime): A Going to Battle time. Spiritual Warfare 101.
The Opening Prayer of Ash Wednesday Mass referred to our “taking up battle against spiritual evils.” I gave it some thought of what such spiritual evils would be. I came up with the 7 Deadly Sins as a group of evils we most need to combat:
Sloth, Envy, Covetousness, Vainglory, Gluttony, Lust, and Prideful Anger. *
In that same Ash Wednesday Lenten beginning prayer, it asked in petition for the Spirit for help to us that “we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” If there is an evil that first comes to mind among the deadly seven, and if there would be one that obviously needs restraint in our day, I would name anger as it. It is far too common a sin, even as bad one. It seems that anger is out of control these days. Not just among terrorists and hard core criminals, which are the obvious and worse sinners, but also in some manner among too many average people.
Last weekend, in my homily, I explained how anger is not first a sin, but a feeling—and that it is what comes in response to it, in one’s action, that could send one from experiencing an anger that would lead them into sin, even the deadly kind.
Last weekend, I mentioned how there is a righteous anger. This is a godly anger. Emotions can rise up for the right and the good. Jesus shows example of it in today’s gospel of John chapter 2, as He gets angry, and it shows itself in a righteous act. So, anger can be good. Yet so often, sadly, it is a feeling stage that leads on to a sin committed. Anger is something that leads many astray into selfishness and poor actions. It is something that we need to be working on, in God’s Spirit, to control from happening. We can use the feeling of anger, and even acknowledge it, for, after all, we live in a messed up, broken, sin-infested world—and such conditions are going to bother us! Yet we need not sin with our frustrations or upset feelings. We don’t even have to let anger fester, either, as wisdom from the Word says: “Don’t let the sun set with your wrathful anger undealt with.” (That comes from Ephesians 4:26) That kind of anger eats up a person from the inside.
I have a friend that I was ordained with—he is Fr. Richard Scott. We were Maryland Terps and then later DC Seminarians (Sems), and then ordained together for Washington in May 1988. One thing that does justly bother Fr. Scott a lot is of all the awful poverty in the world and the corruption of powers that keep it so. He has taken his passionate emotions over it and let it lead him into becoming a missionary to the poorest part of Peru, in permission to go by the Archbishop of Washington. The Archbishop saw in Richard’s face of his wanting to use his frustration over poverty there to lead him to be a missionary on-site for a good change. So the righteous anger led Fr. Scott to do much good. Praise God.
But look at all the unrighteous anger out there, of which we may be a part. Last weekend I mentioned the problem of everyday anger such as road rage, and with acts of hatred by people justifying their ugliness by their sure-I’m-right politics. It’s just ugly anger going on. Mean stuff.
The pervasive anger in America going on shows our moral and religious decline, and just how far into a secular humanism culture we have fallen away from God, into a society focused onto ourselves, often in the need for immediate gratification. We are fallen into an era of entitlement and me-first and self-first living; this all then leads people into some sort of license to get into much trouble, or a license to sin. Right and wrong is so blurred in our America, for it only has a foggy idea of who God is, without much respect for God now. So, when a person gets angry, it tempts them to be selfish in it and ask: What can be wrong with something, if it pleases me?! I’ll act to get it. I’ll only stay angry if I don’t. ” Entitlement is a bad spirit that leads to unrighteous anger. Some customers in a sheik clothing store weren’t getting their way or full immediate attention—so they took it out on the store by stealing things in a dash out the door with it—as if they deserved it, in some demanding self-justification. I witnessed it as these young adult criminals ran outside the store, past me, and I noticed they were hysterically laughing at what they did, to speed off then in their car for a getaway. It was all a funny game to the young people– that they could take out their displeasure with some store person and manager, by bursting into anger, going into violence and committing damage to store good, and making this theft I witnessed. It was a sin of unholy anger going on.
In a Gospel passage for Lent, there is a line about Jesus, in His innocence and truth, seeing people straight on and right in to their core being. The text says that Jesus “knew them all, and did not need anyone to tell Him about human nature.” It is a text when people are around Jesus and pretending to be on His side. Yet, He knew, among those very people, some would fall into such unholy rage later, that they would have Jesus to be crucified.
Jesus said that when He was raised up on the Cross, then people could know Him, and they could know themselves. Sin, such as a deadly sin of anger, reveals to the sinner how we can really act our worst. It reveals, then, how we really do need an innocent Lord Jesus to save us. “Lord Jesus, save us from the anger we throw at you, or others, or at ourselves. Save us from the other six deadly sins, too.
“I have been thinking of the school shootings and even of the violence happening in churches, here, and in the world. These horrific episodes are often committed over someone’s anger getting out of control, and their use of deadly weapons is a result of no restraint on their evil passions. I prayed a Way of the Cross last week, naming the last 14 schools of shooting sights, as those of the 14 Stations.
Let’s admit it–People are angry. Yet unbridled anger or poorly processed anger divides and hurts and destroys. What can we do about it? I’ll advise that the start is with your own self. See the anger problem in yourself. Or it may be one of the other seven capital or deadly sins that entice you. Bring the problem to Jesus, such as in prayer, and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and to places or persons where you can get help. We remove the plank from our own eye before the speck or elsewise of others. Then, see if there’s some angry person you can calm down.
Anger is a “capital sin” with it in the sinful category being a sin which can engender other sins. It can lead to cursing, violence, hatred, and much more. Yet– it first is a decision of the will, the heart, and the mind of how to act on the feeling of anger or frustration. We are neutral at first. With God, all help is possible to contain a sin or to be in control. By ourselves— well, as Jesus told Peter, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Yet in grace, we can have self- mastery. This is a Lenten word, and also a word from the fruits of The Spirit.
Let us be careful against letting our flesh run our lives, when we have The Spirit to guard us. Proverbs says: Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight (27:30). Lent is a good time to let wrath and anger go. Fact is—anytime is a good time of the letting go of prideful anger. It can require much spiritual effort to get free. We need God’s grace to forgive and be merciful of those who trespass against us. Ask for it. We need to be free of a pay-back response to hatred or offenses versus us. Ask for it. Grace gives a different response than a sin-led one. Let us ask God to help us to gracefully respond to situations in this world! Let us learn from Jesus’ actions in the Temple, of how anger is not always sinful. We can pray for discernment and a proper forming of our conscience to know what is true and good. As a feeling or a passion coming on in us, anger is not necessarily sinful. As we learn from the angry Jesus, to become angry at an injustice is not sinful. For example, today–who would not feel anger over these shootings at schools?
So we can respond in love and justice and reason. We need to be careful that our emotion of anger not harden into a resentment and seed of hate.
I preach and write about this sin because of the great harm it does to others and to ourselves. It is a big impediment to growth in holiness. It can have devastating effects on human relationships, including within families and between spouses. It can have harmful effects in the Church. Angry priests easily hurt parishioners and angry parishioners can easily hurt their priests.
Sadly, I see or hear about such bad actions over anger happening regularly, and you can even see it a lot in internet communications. People can get angry over something, and without reasonable deliberation, quickly shoot off an awfully bad text or e-mail or tweet or whatsapp or Facebook message. The easy and rapid means of communication today have a downside — that in the anger of a moment, we can send out a painful, mean or hurtful comment. All due to unbridled anger.
I don’t like to read blogs today since, so often, they spew out angry words in a manner that displays a real lack of charity towards others. We should not underestimate the harm done by angry words. The “Thou shalt not kill” commandment might apply here. I sometimes will ask: How can a follower of Christ be so badly angry and communicate in such an uncharitable or even vile way? It is obviously a spiritual problem. As we prayed on Ash Wednesday, we must take up battle against spiritual evils, including battle against the capital sin of anger.
We read in the Beatitudes, Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus also described Himself as meek and humble of heart. He calls us to imitate His meekness. Meekness helps us to control anger. Meekness is closely connected to love. It can be described also as gentleness, kindness, and mildness. It moderates, controls, and calms angry feelings. It is related also to clemency. Meekness is not weakness. On the contrary, it is a strong and vigorous virtue whereby one gains authority over one’s anger.
If we wish to grow in holiness, we cannot be angry persons. We may experience angry feelings. That is part of being human. But to persist in anger and become angry persons is a tragic and dangerous thing. It is like a cancer in a person’s soul.
Like we do fight against cancer, let us fight in this spiritual life versus the spiritual evil that is so poisonous, this sin against charity. Unrighteous anger.
The Word says: Leave all wrath to God. Stand with the Christ of Peace. It is Christ Jesus it is who died for sin and was raised— who also is at the right hand of God,-Who indeed intercedes for us. In His Name, O God, have mercy on me.