“Fight all error, but do it with good humor, kindness, patience, and love. Harshness will damage your own soul and spoil the best cause.”–St. John of Kanty
“It is better to deny entrance to just and reasonable anger than to admit it, no matter how small it is. Once let in, it is driven out again only with difficulty. It comes in as a little twig and in less than no time it grows big and becomes a beam.”–St. Augustine
“I state absolutely and make no exception, do not be angry at all if that is possible…. When we find ourselves surprised into anger through our own imperfections and frailty, it is better to drive it away quickly than to start a discussion with it…. When we find that we have been aroused to anger we must call for God’s help.”–St. Francis de Sales
The advice of these saints on the subject of anger was running through my mind a few weeks ago as I struggled to find peace after an acquaintance made a hurtful and unjust comment. Fresh air always helps to clear my head, so I went for a walk in the cemetery in my neighborhood.
Built in the 1800s, this cemetery has been a place of solace and peace for me in the nearly two decades I’ve lived here. Spending so much time there over the years has heightened my sense of memento mori—the headstones draw me to consider my own mortality. My frequent visits there have also served as a visible reminder to pray for the dead. The souls who are buried there have become precious friends to me over the miles I’ve trodden along the cemetery’s path.
This friendship is not one-sided. After I pray for these souls, I also give them my intentions and ask them to pray for me, for the Catechism (958) says that “our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, but also of making their intercession for us effective.” Their prayers have brought real and remarkable graces into my life.
On this day a few weeks ago, as I scaled the cemetery’s hill, I prayed a Seven Sorrows Rosary and tried to overcome the temptation to be angry with this person over her uncharitable words. Dwelling on what she said only made it worse. How could she have been so insensitive? So unjust?
On the other hand, the advice of the saints convicted me. I knew I needed to interpret her actions in the most charitable light possible, to bar the door to anger, and to cultivate kindness toward her in my heart.
What happened next is something I believe was a gift from the holy souls, whose friendship enveloped and protected me on that holy ground.
I was praying the Sixth Sorrow of Mary: Mary Holds Jesus’ Body at the Foot of the Cross. I imagined, as I often do, Mary holding Jesus in her arms. But then the image changed. In Jesus’ place was the person who had said the hurtful things. Mary was holding her tenderly and gazing at her with a look of infinite love.
In that moment, I understood that all of us on earth are Mary’s children, made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus is hidden in His people. And so, Our Lady would hold each one of us as she held Him.
Imagining this person in Mary’s arms changed my entire perspective. Instead of feeling angry with her, I recognized her worth in the eyes of Jesus and Mary. My resentment changed to reverence for this person God created and deeply loves, regardless of how her behavior offended me.
After I realized the profound way this image helped me, I began to try it with other people whose actions I found difficult to bear. In the weeks that followed, each time I found myself feeling frustrated, resentful, upset, and tempted to anger by something another person said or did, I returned to the Sixth Sorrow of Mary. I placed that person in Mary’s arms at the foot of the Cross. And immediately my feelings about them changed. Frustration fled and compassion grew for these people who, despite their failings, were God’s children, too.
As a highly sensitive person, I often have trouble letting go of past wounds, even when I immediately forgive with my will. Of all the methods I’ve tried and all the ways I’ve prayed to release these resentments, never has one so powerfully changed my heart as this one.
There in the cemetery, wrapped in the friendship of the holy souls, I received the answer to the question that had troubled me:
How do I avoid anger as the saints say?
The answer was in the Sixth Sorrow of Mary. If I bring each person who offends me to Our Lady to hold at the Foot of the Cross, her love for Jesus will heal the wounds in my imperfect heart.
image: Statue of the Virgin Mary, Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery (Montreal), photo by kristof lauwers / Shutterstock.com