In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that hatred not only seeks destruction and harm to the person we hate but it also brings destruction upon us as well. God dwells in us when we remain in communion with Him living a holy life. In this way, we are his temple. St. Paul warns us that we would destroy our temples with anger envy or resentment. Driving God out. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines anger as “An emotion which is not in itself wrong, but which, when it is not controlled by reason or hardens into resentment and hate, becomes one of the seven capital sins.” A capital sin is a mortal sin: that means spiritual death. Anger is the door by which all the other vices get a hold of us. When we’re angry we act in ways we never would when we’re calm. We begin to gossip, trade insults, and lie. We lose our patience and kindness and empathy. Pride and selfishness take over.
I have a story about a man who for a time let anger get the best of him. His name is Moses. This is not the Moses of Exodus who led the Israelites to freedom, but a different Moses who lived in 4th century Egypt. He was a big man known for his strength and ferocity. He had a ferocious anger. Moses began his life as a servant. He was not a good servant. He was a very bad servant. He was a thief and he constantly stole from his boss. And when he became a suspect in a murder case the boss told him to leave. He was fired. He’d had enough. He didn’t want a murderer living under his roof. Once let go from his job Moses turned to a more devoted life of crime. Moses was a large and imposing figure and wherever he went he brought violence and terror.
There is the story of him planning the robbery of a very wealthy man. This wealthy man had a fortress and many guards that protected his wealth. But Moses had a “fool-proof” plan, or so he thought, of breaking in to steal the treasure. The plan didn’t work; a dog began to bark alerting the guards to Moses’ presence. And so he ran. This failure put him into a rage. He vowed to come back and try again, not only would he steal from the wealthy man, but he would also murder him. He was in a great rage. He was enslaved to his rage and it was driving him to murder. And so a few weeks later he came back. Again the dog alerted the guards to Moses presence. He had totally forgotten the dog. So he ran and guards gave chase. Thank God for that dog for Moses’ life was about to change.
To hide from the guards Moses hid within a monastery (near Alexandria Egypt). It was the closest place to hide. And there he stayed waiting for things to cool down. The monks welcomed him and took care of him. They had no idea he was a wanted criminal. This kind welcome was something new to Moses and it surprised him. Nobody had ever welcomed him with such charity.
The life of the monks impressed Moses. The dedication of their lives to prayer and honest work as well as their peace and contentment influenced Moses deeply. He wanted that peace. He wondered if there just might be a connection between prayer, honest work, and peace. And so for a time he lived as a monk. He found that it was a good fit for him. And so he asked for baptism and then he asked to join the community. The former murderer and thief was now a monk.
Moses had been a zealous thief, his dedication to stealing, made him a good thief. He brought this same zealousness to religious life. He wanted to be the best monk possible. But it was hard, he kept slipping, he kept sinning, he kept making mistakes. He was tempted to discouragement. He wasn’t perfect enough; he wasn’t growing in holiness as quickly as he would have wanted.
Sensing his frustration, an older monk one morning took Moses to the roof of the monastery and together they watched the sun rise. As they watched the first rays of the dawn come over the horizon the old monk said to Moses, “Only slowly do the rays of the sun drive away the night and usher in a new day, and thus only slowly does one become perfect.” Don’t give up; don’t give into the temptation of discouragement. He didn’t, he became a Saint. Moses died at the age of 75 on July 1st, 405 AD. Today we know him as St. Moses the Black. Ironically he was martyred by men who were looting the monastery looking for treasure.
What to do about anger. Throughout the past two millennia there have been quite a few saints who struggled with anger. And they would recommend the following three points.
1. Take a break. Step back, I had a priest once tell me that when anger comes to go and run around the block, maybe even yell into a pillow. And then go and talk to our Lord. He wants us to talk to Him, to talk to Him in our anger, tell him what we feel, right to his face. He’s a father and he wants to be involved in our lives, even in the midst of anger. In all things, we always turn to God, especially when we are feeling less than holy! Often when we talk to God in our anger we are able to calm down, God restores the peace in our hearts. St. Jerome, famous for his anger, when he was in the midst of an argument and he knew he had lost his calm, he would take a break, sometimes for as long as two years. He’d go to the desert and pray. A conversation can always be resumed at a later date after cooler heads prevail.
2. Listen and focus. Arguments spiral out of control when we aren’t actually talking to each other. We instead try to prove the other person wrong and force them to surrender and they do the same to us. Instead pray for the grace to think through what the other person is trying to say. Give them a big benefit of the doubt. Maybe consider that the other person is having a bad day, or just received terrible news, or is dealing with long-term stress.
3. Self-Accusation. This is the hard one. We examine our self, even if we are right, maybe our method of communication wasn’t effective. It probably wasn’t.
Remember, we are little souls right now. And little souls they fall, but like little kids when they fall they get up quickly and keep going. They keep trying, they trust, they know there’s a father close by to pick them up and make it right. We are little souls right now, we keep trying and we trust. This is our formula for heaven. We are little souls, we keep trying and we trust.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher Ankley