(cross-posted on the Benedictine Spirituality Forum)

I thought some brief Benedictine reflections on anger might be timely as we enter Holy Week and honor Our Lord’s meekness and forgiveness of those who took His life and abandoned Him.

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22You are not to act in anger
23or nurse a grudge.

Verses 23 through 41 [of Chapter 4 of the Rule] are again practical advice for a strong spiritual life that is lived in our actions. In verse 25 we have the admonition never to give a hollow greeting of peace. We must be cautious with this advice because in the present time we judge the hollowness of a thing by how we feel about it. This is certainly not the intention of the Rule. Rather, the Rule is asking us to choose the good of the other, even when I feel total animosity toward the other. As Christians we are not to follow our feelings–and yet we must acknowledge them. Thus, a person must be able to acknowledge the dislike of another person, even anger towards another person, and yet still choose in Christ to act in a manner that is truly a reflection of Christ’s love for us.

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We might also mention another antidote to persistent anger. The fourth chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict has the wonderful title “Tools for Good Works,” and in the chapter says that the way of the monk should not be the way of the world. Benedict quickly adds: “You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge.” He then, without explanation, adds a few more injunctions: do not be deceitful in your heart; never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love. In that almost brusque series of “good works,” he might have given us a gem: to avoid anger, turn from the self in love, and care for others. Without saying so, Benedict links anger to self-absorption and pride; he links peace of mind to its opposites, love and concern. That strikes me as a wonderful truth even if easy to give and hard to put into play.

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It is quite simply not good enough to keep on apologising for the sharp tongue or
the hasty word, or even to check our words before we utter them. That may well
help relations with our correspondents, and it is, of course, essential to
acknowledge and confess our wrongdoing when we recognise it, and return once
again to our loving Father, but this does not change the fact that we allow the
anger take over our hearts in the first place. It is this that is damaging. Feelings
of anger and frustration, and the nurturing of them, should not be in the same
heart that is host to Christ. The two cannot co-exist
.

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“Bitterness, like a Gillette blade unskilfully handled in the to-and-fro of a razor fight, can do a certain amount of harm to other people, but it can do far more harm to oneself. A bitter man (or woman) may be destructive in what he (she) says, may cause mischief, may dash the hopes of those who are ready to start off with a flourish of trumpets, but he is the sufferer in the long run. Bitterness is the extension of a bad mood; it jabs continuously at other people, and all the time the blade goes deeper and deeper into oneself. It is a curious and fatal tendency on the part of human beings that they tend to work up a grievance against people whom they have treated unjustly. Discovered in a critical judgment we dig ourselves in when we should be digging ourselves out.

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Feeling angry at life’s frustrations is a temptation of the human condition, and there is such a thing as righteous anger over one’s own sins and the sins of others. However, when this emotional sense of displeasure snowballs into antagonism, brooding resentment, the desire to sow discord, and especially the desire for vengeance, then anger is rightly called one of the seven deadly or capital sins along with pride, avarice, envy, lust, gluttony and sloth. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1866)

As followers of Christ it is important that we discern anger as a sign of the times — to use the words of the Second Vatican Council — in order to bring His healing to the world. Jesus faced a tidal wave of human anger leading up to His crucifixion. However, He overcame this tragic state of affairs, not by returning anger for anger, but as the First Letter of Peter says: “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return. When He suffered, He did not threaten, but He trusted to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:23f)

If the triumphant Risen Christ has shown us anything, it is that patient endurance and merciful forgiveness — not anger — are the only paths to victory over evil and to the peace that this world cannot give, both for ourselves and for others.

When it comes to remedies, I cannot fail to mention the Sacrament of Penance. I once had a conversation with a psychologist about how much anger there is in people today. “Bishop,” she said, “what do you expect when so few people go to confession any more.”

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“The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last to be totally calm when unlean winds are blowing.” (St. John Climacus)

“As water extinguishes fire, so prayer does extinguish the heat of the passions.” and “Conquer your rage with wise, rational thought. Offer it up as a sacrifice to God.” (St. John Chrysostom)

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