So often when hearing confessions, someone will come in and say, “Father, I was angry”, as one of their list of faults. When it’s my turn to offer some guidance, I always return to that point to make this clarification: Anger, like happiness or sadness, is an emotion or feeling. Therefore it is neutral…neither good nor bad. However, what we may do or say while under their influence is not necessarily neutral. That can very well be good or bad. What does this mean?
Feelings and emotions are unsolicited and the result of an outside stimulus. Something happens which makes us happy or sad. Someone does or says something which makes us mad. These are generally things which we cannot conjure-up on our own. They are a response to something else. For example, just because I told you to “get happy/sad/angry right now” doesn’t mean that you will. Something has to cause that response in you. Therefore, we shouldn’t worry about the fact that we experience feelings and emotions. That’s normal. What we should concern ourselves about is what happens – what we say or do -when we in fact do experience them.
Even anger can be a two way street. Many times it is a powerful motivation to accomplish something good. For example, if there is a big hole in your street that everyone’s car hits daily. People will begin to complain, get upset, and call their city wondering why it isn’t being fixed. When the city gets an “earful”, a crew is sent to make the repair. This is an example of anger being channeled to accomplish something good.
For most people though, anger is a “danger zone” which much more often leads them toward the negative. They get upset and excited, speed up, think less if at all and, oops, it’s too late: they already did or said something they regret. Therefore, our efforts should not be put into not experiencing emotions or feelings – that would be futile – but rather on controlling our responses to them – how we let them effect or even control us – for this is where the progress can be made.
That’s why in the gospel today, Jesus is “righteously wrath”. He’s angry, but all about doing good with it – especially when you consider his reference to the real temple being our body – the temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s also what this Lenten Season is all about, too, isn’t is? We may well ask ourselves, then, how am I using this time to “cleanse” myself of that which hinders the life of God within me? That would certainly be an effort put in the right place and one well worth taking.
Fr. Eric Orzech, Cleveland (OH), USA