If you believe the ancient Greeks about personality types—and none of it is scientific—then you will know about the “choleric temperament.”
I have one of those. So let me share with you the considerable wisdom I have acquired through decades of expressing anger in all sorts of ways.
The mortal sin of anger is great fun. It really is. That’s why some people stay angry for years, feuding and holding grudges and giving each other the cut direct at parties.
Anyone who says otherwise has never been really angry. I once listened to a CD on anger by a nice American deacon, who asked me in his nice American voice: “Do you have a right to be angry?”
I was driving at the time, so naturally I answered him out loud, “YES!” (Jonah 4:9).
But it was one of those pesky Socratic questions that makes you go away and think. Do any of us have a right to be angry? Probably not.
We have all been victimised. We all have trauma—some of us more than others. We’ve all been on the receiving end of terrible injustices over the course of our lives.
We have also dished these things out to other people. Most of us haven’t been caught or exposed for doing this. Most of us have also never made amends for it.
There are people who would never do extreme sports. Instead, they find that the adrenalin rush of a good loss of temper is less risky and just as much fun.
These people are pretty awful to live with. Quite often they terrorise their families. Everyone walks on eggshells.
There is such a thing as righteous indignation. This can help us to identify and overcome injustice and ensure that people are treated with decency and respect.
Most of us struggle to keep our anger within these confines. St James (who often sounds quite grumpy himself) tells us straight out, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
The Greek word for righteousness, dikaiosynen, means something like “right conduct,” God’s idea of how you should behave. Being angry is not going to get you there.
Anger in its sinful form leads people to do terrible things. They kill other people, wound them, and say things which can’t be unsaid.
We live in a very pampered society, but one with a lot of emotional neglect and poor socialisation. Many adults are stuck in angry toddlerhood, unable to cope with being crossed.
“anger in its sinful form leads people to do terrible things. They kill other people, wound them and say things which can’t be unsaid”.
Some people enjoy trolling on social media and setting everyone straight because they’re always right. This can lead to doxxing—sharing a person’s details online so that people can attack them more directly)—and even death threats.
Then there’s the legal system. Too many otherwise good Catholics have been litigious to their own ruin, and the ruin of their families, because of anger.
There’s road rage and car park rage. And the very special form of anger we call “church rage”.
This is when you come home from Mass on Sunday and rant for about an hour afterwards. Or you write an angry letter to The Catholic Weekly. Or an entire column, not mentioning any names.
What can we do about our addiction to anger? Like all the other grave sins, you should recognise it and take it to confession—every single time, if you must.
Like all grave sins, you might need some professional help to start changing your world view. Unmanageable anger usually comes from deep and sad wounds.
Mercy is the best antidote to anger. To practise it, you need to start thinking differently about who you are, who other people are, and who God is.
You also need to lose your sense of entitlement to “justice”—which isn’t justice at all but revenge in disguise.
“MERCY IS THE BEST ANTIDOTE TO ANGER. tO PRACTISE IT, YOU NEED TO START THINKING DIFFERENTLY ABOUT WHO YOU ARE, WHO OTHER PEOPLE ARE AND WHO GOD IS”.
Forgiveness is a process; it takes time and grace. It can also be unilateral. Lent is a good time to make those first steps with prayer and the sacraments.
Meekness is another unpopular virtue. It’s a blend of patience, humility, and rightness. Meekness upholds right conduct and gives you patience when you are sinned against.
It means knowing exactly where you stand in the universe in relation to God. You need tremendous inner strength—in fact, to be rooted and grounded in God Himself—to be genuinely meek.
This Lent, identify your angry spots. Take them to confession. Why not turn that sword into a ploughshare, and prepare the way of the Lord?