The Gospel: For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the men of old, "You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgement." But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says "you fool!" shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
The homily: Anger is hard to get rid of. It gets enmeshed with our ego. We don't like having people cheat us or walk over us. Sometimes it seems like our anger is the only thing no one can take away.
Religious people are definitely not anger-proof. Perhaps we are even more susceptible to anger, at least the deeply-rooted sort of anger, because we're taught from an early age that repressing anger is somehow virtuous. I've heard a number of people in vows say that obedience is the toughest, tougher than poverty or celibacy, because, of the three, it has the greatest potential for generating anger. Evagrius Ponticus, in his fourth-century work on prayer, spends more time talking about anger than about lust or gluttony or greed. So this business of anger has been around for a while.
When I was younger, most of my anger was directed towards women who didn't want to go out with me, or who blew me off after one date. I've been with a terrific woman for 37 years now, but I still have to deal with my other major source of anger, the Church. For various reasons, the Church periodically slams doors in my face. I once lost my temper with a former rector and called him a "fool", thereby making me liable, I suppose, to the "hell of fire".
What to do with anger? I am not a hermit on Mt Athos or a Tibetan rinpoche, so the notion that I might somehow evolve to the point where I am totally anger-free seems dangerously naive. A few days ago I gratefully stumbled across a quote of St Basil the Great, another Church Father from the fourth century, that someone posted on Facebook. It reads:
True fasting is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting.
Instead of beating ourselves over the head for not being able to let go of anger altogether, let's try to aim for an "anger fast", both during this Lent and during the days to follow. Fasting from food is not a permanent condition. Most of us will never totally get rid of anger, at least this side of the afterlife, but I think going on anger fasts of increasingly longer duration is quite reasonable--and doable.
This entry was posted on Friday, March 14, 2014 at Friday, March 14, 2014 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .