Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Righteous Anger

"And Jesus went into the temple of God and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple and overthrew the tables of the money changers and the chairs of them that sold doves." (Matthew 21:12 Douay-Rheims).

This act of relative violence on Jesus' part has been used to justify a lot of negative actions and emotions of Christians today. If Jesus can get angry, why can't I? Well, certainly- if you are capable of remaining righteously angry without succumbing to bitterness, then be righteously angry over a slight or hurt or someone sinning against you. Those of us who suffer from a fallen nature- which is all of us, of course- should guard ourselves from indulging in these negative emotions however true they might be because there is a very real danger that we will become bitter when contemplating the sins of others.

Here's an example from my own life to illustrate my point. This past semester at my college where I teach, we had very low opening enrollment. The dean had the option of dropping classes before the beginning of the semester, and if he had done this, I could have 'bumped' a less preferred person off the list and received a class if my assigned class didn't have enough enrolled students. Well, he decided to wait until the second week of classes to drop- merciful but making it impossible for me to bump. We need fifteen students to retain a class. I had ten students in my advanced class, and the next class down had twenty-one students (many of whom had been in my high-intermediate class the previous semester so they were ready for advanced). The teacher refused to sign any transfer slips or listen to my idea to shuffle the students so we could each have a job. So, now I am unemployed, and because of broken transmissions and other surprise expenses, we are really feeling a financial struggle. Now I can feel:

After Some Righteous Anger, Positive Action: I could go to my department chair and ask for a class assignment next semester that would be more likely to receive the necessary enrollments (intermediate). I could work with some colleagues on outreach so that we all get more students. I could work with the dean so that some of my department's classes would be transferable to a four-year institution,  attracting more students. I could use this extra time to help my husband translate his book. I could be inspired by my relative first-world poverty to be thankful and very careful of the resources we still have. And I could register for unemployment insurance benefits!

or Bitterness: I could embarrass myself by bringing up this instructor and the problem at department meetings. I could prank call him. I could get a spy to reveal just how much Spanish he uses in a class that is supposed to be English-only. Bitterness means we allow ourselves to wallow in the hurt. But dwelling on this hurt only affects me. Bitterness also magnifies the first hurt and makes it continue. He is busy teaching a class now; he doesn't remember how he got to keep that class. So, an antidote to bitterness is humility- I have to realize that he is not thinking of me at all. Another antidote to bitterness in my specific case is to imagine why he wouldn't share his students with me. Perhaps he was afraid that some of the students would drop the program altogether and he would have less than fifteen students and he has a wife with medical needs and he has to keep his job and he is sponsoring a few kids from Africa and he needs the money to pay their school tuition. I don't know if these things are true, but it comforts me a little when I am transferring my kids' saving accounts into my checking so I can pay basic bills. Righteous anger can lead to positive action and forgiveness while bitterness stays negative and internal, a rotten core that is very difficult to change. We probably all know elderly people who- even while near death- still harbor grudges and resentment.

The following prayers are perfect for those of us who are struggling with righteous anger becoming bitterness. As always, Jesus is our guide. Even when He could be righteously angry, he usually didn't show those emotions. According to Holy Scripture, He was more likely to be sad than angry when confronted with sin.

 A prayer written before his execution from St Thomas More:
ALMIGHTY GOD, have mercy on N. and N., and on all that bear me evil will, and would me harm, and their faults and mine to-gether, by such easy, tender, merciful means, as thine infinite wisdom best can devise, vouch-safe to amend and redress, and make us saved souls in heaven together where we may ever live and love together with thee and thy blessed saints. O glorious Trinity, for the bitter passion of our sweet Saviour Christ. Amen.

Lord, give me patience in tribulation and grace in everything to conform my will to thine: that I may truly say: Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in coelo et in terra. The things, good Lord, that I pray for, give me thy grace to labour for. Amen. 

Here's a rather intense, mystical prayer from the Orthodox St Nicolai of Zica- 
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world. Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me. So that my fleeing to Thee may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
If you can pray the following prayer sincerely, you are safe from becoming bitter  no matter the sufferings and enemies you have:
Lord, remember not only the men of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember rather the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have bourne be their forgiveness. (wow. just wow.) Source: found on a scrap of paper at the liberation of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany


  1. This was amazing. I read every bit of it- I had to laugh out loud when I read about sending a "spy" into the instructor's class.... these thoughts can be seen as temptations to bitterness; and we can (must) send them to the depths and practice practice practice forgiveness. Those prayers need to be printed out and put in a prominent place in my home!! What a powerful lesson they teach. Dorothy Day said you only love Jesus as much as the person you like the least. (so sue me, I like Dorothy Day..) ;) -F

  2. F- I like that Dorothy Day quotation- it is so true- it is 'easy' to be kind to people far away but to be forgiving to those we can really SEE (like family- like parish clergy) is the ultimate

    and with this instructor who probably can't see the effect his actions have, I am REALLY trying to practice forgiveness (mostly for myself)

  3. I'll second the "wow". Thanks for the reminder and fleshing out the "love thy enemy" perspective. I needed it. Pater

  4. When asked "What Would Jesus Do? We believe an option is to "Freak Out and Overturn Tables. This phrase, for me, is to show that the Lord is not a God of only inclusive love, but justice.

    I have no right to freak out and turn over tables. He does and apparently did.

    Speaking out to say my peace is a Spiritual work of mercy and we are called to correct what we see as wrong.

    "Vengeance is mine says the Lord" turns over my feelings to Christ to do as He sees fit.(unless I had to act to protect someone)

    It helps me know that He is taking care of business. And His solutions are for the salvation of souls.

  5. Vocal- then it looks like you are still in the righteous anger/positive action side of things....just don't get overwhelmed, depressed and then bitter!

    Kisses and hugs


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