Understanding the Two Sides of Anger

Josh recalled a story from his past when he used to be a Protestant and a regular member of the congregation at a Protestant church. The lead pastor at this particular church was named Mark, and throughout his spiritual journey, Josh had spoken to and become close to Mark, even as he prepared to leave Protestantism for Catholicism.

Around that time when Josh was considering converting to Catholicism, he remembers attending a specific Sunday worship service when Mark did something out of the ordinary. Where typically Mark would lead the congregation in a prayer to end the service, he told everyone that he had an announcement to make. He was going to be leaving his post as the lead pastor of this church immediately.

In his own words, he was dealing with a sin that made him unfit to lead that church, and that sin was beginning to affect his marriage, his family, and his work as a pastor. It wasn’t the sin of lust, infidelity, or any of the other ones that might spring to mind. The sin that Mark was struggling with was anger, and it was seeping into his family life in situations where he found he couldn’t even control himself.

Fr. Joseph Illo joined Josh on The Inner Life to discuss the sin of anger, why it is so dangerous, and what the difference is between righteous anger and unrighteous anger.

When talking about the most serious and scandalous sins, anger is often unintentionally left out of the conversation, but we shouldn’t forget that anger is one of the seven deadly sins, along with pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, sloth, and envy. Anger is often the fuel that feeds the motivation for other sins like murder or revenge.

Fr. Joseph explained that the reason anger is considered a capital sin is that it disables us. It keeps us from connecting to the will of God because our judgment and our peace is being shaken up by this visceral emotion concocted by pride.

Fr. Joseph referred to the expression “seeing red”, which means to be entirely focused on the object of your anger, as not only an expression but as an indication of the disabling that anger can cause. When we become angry or hostile at a person or situation, adrenaline naturally surges through our bodies. That rush causes pressure to build around the eyes and that can result in blurred or hazy vision.

That phenomenon is a perfect metaphor for what happens to us mentally and spiritually. Our anger, frustration, or desire for retribution can very often pull our attention away from our objective: to do God’s will. We can become solely concentrated on making sure that this person or thing feels our fire, and that leads us to do things we don’t want to do, say things we don’t mean, and create irreparable heartache.

At the same time, it is possible to be angry but prevent it from becoming sinful. As St. Paul wrote in Chapter 4 of Ephesians, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:26-27) In fact, if we are in a situation where we should be angry and are not, we are doing wrong. “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but even the good to do wrong.” (Opus Imperfectum)

Fr. Joseph pointed out that it was a well-known fact that St. Paul was a zealous, energetic, and fervent man who was no stranger to expressing anger. Further, we see in the Gospel that Our Lord Himself became angry at the moneychangers in the temple, as well as at the Pharisees and Sadducees for their hardness of hearts. Anger as it first comes to us is a morally neutral emotion. We simply can’t help the way our emotions initially respond to situations. What we do with that anger is where we can make a choice: We can respond in sin, or we can respond in virtue.

To respond in sin would be to give in to contempt and hatred. Respond to the person or situation by harming or hurting the thing or person that’s making me feel this way. Bend it, break it, destroy it, mentally and/or physically. It’s the desire to get even. Sinful anger is the attempt to prove that you have just as much power as the thing hurting you.

To respond in virtue would be to channel your frustration and outrage in a fashion that is constructive and purposeful in the eyes of God. Express to the person the ways that they are hurting or harming you. Explain the anger that you feel, and why what they’re doing is unjust. Attempt to solve the problem without giving in to the desire to eviscerate the other person for their crime or sin against you.

“I think many people don’t realize in a passive-aggressive society like ours that righteous anger is valid and is virtuous. But the distinction between righteous and unrighteous anger must be understood.”

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St. Gregory Recovery Center
John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.