Those of us who claim choleric temperaments (myself included) know well the difficulty of navigating the tempests of anger. At times, there is a sense of homeostasis within us, in which anger subsides and gives way to more productive or deeper emotions. The sea is calm. But often, people or circumstances disrupt our interior peace when they encroach on our territory. Waves begin to ripple on the waters.
If we don’t pay attention, those smooth seas quickly become violent, thrashing tsunamis that destruct everyone within our paths, including ourselves. This is the storm at sea — the storm of anger.
“Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God” (James 1: 19-20).
A few months ago, I took my oldest daughter, Felicity, with me to Confession and the Saturday Vigil Mass. We had some time in between the two for some silent meditation and prayer, which was refreshing to me, especially since we had an infant at home and I was not getting consolidated sleep or long stretches of time to pray.
During Communion, an older couple behind me started grumbling. We were stuck in the church basement for Mass due to renovations in the sanctuary. As a result, one of the extraordinary ministers was distributing Communion in an inconspicuous part of the gym, and a crowd gathered, rather than a line.
The gentleman threw up his hands. “Come on!” he shouted. “Don’t you people know how to form a line? This is ridiculous!” I noticed it, as did Felicity, mainly because we were startled from such a serene state of being that it was obvious this man had some issues.
This could have been situational anger, in which the man was irritated in the moment and nothing more. We all have spurts of getting frustrated during a traffic jam, impatient in a long line after a really tough day, or reaching our threshold of tolerance with young children who have been teething, fighting, or wailing for hours (yes, I’m speaking of myself here).
Situational anger, in these cases, is not sinful but should still be monitored, because it can lead to a state of anger, described next.
State of Anger
The word “state” connotes something more than just reacting to a stressful moment. It’s a condition that’s brewing under the surface and emerges frequently, especially when we least expect it and in very serious ways.
Here is an example: my husband was driving to work one morning, taking his usual route on a very busy highway. He witnessed a grisly scene, in which an older man was driving more slowly than the man behind him wanted to go, so the second guy sped past him and ended up running into his vehicle. What’s worse is that he got out of his truck and beat the older man – to death.
This, friends, is a serious state of being. If we aren’t cognizant of the times we are prone to responding with anger circumstantially, we may find ourselves in this constant state of being, which erodes our peace and can fester from an actual diabolic spirit.
Spirit of Anger
“But now you must put them all away: anger, fury, malice, slander, and obscene language out of your mouths” (Colossians 3:8).
There are demonic influences that can tap into our angry responses, too. Patterns of violent behavior, often including revenge, might originate from generational spirits of anger or specific spirits. To explain, exorcists say there are spirit “families,” which are like the parents, if you will, of other lesser, “companion” spirits — like the children. Anger is a spirit family, and there are a host of other spirits collaborating to tempt us toward the sin of anger.
Some of these spirits include jealousy, envy, competition, comparison, fury, rage, terror, tragedy, trauma, any form of fighting or arguing, misunderstandings, hatred, rebelliousness, bitterness and resentment, mercilessness, cruelty, self-harm, and many more. The point is that, if you find your anger growing out of control, get to Confession first, then pray that you will notice the anger triggers in your life, and rebuke or admonish them in Jesus’s name.
Also known as righteous indignation, righteous anger is caused by what is truly unjust. We are familiar with the story of Jesus overturning the money changers in the temple, which is the classic example of righteous anger. He was responding rightfully to what was truly an offense against God’s justice.
In our day, holy anger can be applied to any form of abuse, especially against children — trafficking, abuse by clergy, and verbal, physical, and sexual abuse from anyone. Abortion, of course, is one of the gravest offenses against children, who are the most vulnerable and innocent while still in the womb.
But other forms of holy anger might not be so readily acknowledged: misappropriation of funds in companies, leading to oppression against the workers; misuse of tax dollars in a community that leads to gross imbalance of poverty and little to no resources funneled to assist the poor; ignoring the high suicide rates and PTSD incidents in our military veterans; and so on.
We might find ourselves straddling the fine line between righteous and unholy anger that leads to sin, which is why this one is so tricky to discern clearly. We can look to the expression of our anger to understand when righteousness can shift into darker territory. For instance, peacefully protesting abortion outside of clinics is an appropriate expression of righteousness. But when a person gets so enraged that he bombs a clinic, wounding or killing others, it is a serious sin.
Any expression of anger can quickly turn out of control if it is not a) immediately recognized, b) given to God in prayer, and c) allowed to cool enough to discern the most appropriate, peaceful course of action as response. Peace is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the only one that Satan cannot replicate. Pray for interior peace and practice the art of listening more and speaking only after a period of intentional thought leads you to do so. Then anger, however it manifests itself in your life, will be conquered.