Posts filed under: anger

Dear father, it's hard to love my mom. I don't know how she gets angry at me right after we go to confession and mass. We'll pray as a family at night, and then the next day she finds something to yell about. What should I do? - Anonymous

Yes, that’s a complicated question. It’s complicated because the way that Mass and Confession change us is complicated. Grace always happens there (Jesus comes into us when we receive Communion, and he forgives our sins in Confession) but to a certain extent, the effect that the grace has on us depends on our disposition.

In other words, if habits or desires in me are pulling me in another direction, the divine “seed” can fall on rocky soil, and it will normally take sacramental grace far longer to change us. We have to want to cooperate with God’s grace in transforming us, and we need the strength to do so. Not a given.

So what should you do? First, think of reasons to forgive her. Attenuating circumstances: maybe she had a bad day, maybe she’s suffering, etc. We never fully grasp the stress and the pain that consume other people.

Then find ways to defuse the tension that can develop. Be sympathetic, be understanding, show that you want what she wants, show that you don’t want to answer back by yelling, show that you think you can work it out together.

So pray for her and pray with her, but realize that prayer is therapy to a certain extent. It’s not a sign that instant total change has happened or that we’re “holy,” but a sign that we’re not… that we’re seeking to change, that we’re sinners in recovery. You and me and your mom… we’re all in this together.

I’ll pray for both of you! God bless.

- Father Shane

Think you’re unqualified to be a Christian? That’s a great start to be a great one.

i was wondering how not to hate. im gonna bea junior this year in high school. back in 9th grade i got into a huge fight with some people. i thought they cared for me but they stabbed me in the back. high school drama. we fought and i left it all behind me. i actually did say sorry to those people. i ment it and i went to confession. theres just 1 person that i cant stand still. im gonna be a junior this year and they say that they dont care about me and yet during 10th grade theyve come back to remind of what i did. i dont care about them saying im a horrible person. i know what i did was wrong but i did my penance. i can there is only 1 person i hate and i know thats wrong but i just cant let go. i dont know how to. ive let go of past problems ive had except for that one person. especially hard since they keep coming back to remind me. they even dared to say God is disappointed me. they spoke of God and they dont even believe in him. thats where i blew up. i was so angry that they used God in vain. i told myself my junior year was going to be for sure anew start and then they came back once again. i know that some how theyre just gonna keep at it but i dont like having this feeling of hate. it really does make me feel sick. how do i get rid of these feelings? - Anonymous

Well, feelings will just show up uninvited. You don’t have a whole lot of control over them. And it’s a good life lesson: Everywhere we are in life, in every environment in which we live, there will always be that somebody or somebodies that are really really hard to get along with and that don’t seem like they “deserve” to be forgiven.

A couple things I wrote a little while back that you might find helpful are this and this. I hope it helps!

God bless you and count on my prayers.

- Father Shane

Hello Father,

So the other day I was having a conversation with a fellow Catholic about some of the implications of Christ being both fully human and fully divine. Even though he possesses both natures, he is one divine person. Which means, as divine, it's impossible for him to sin. (I think I worded that correctly.) So our question was: How can we say Christ was a sinless -human- being when it was his -divine- personhood controlling and directing his human life?

Which led to other interesting questions, such as: What, exactly, would have constituted temptation for Christ? For most human beings, temptation is more than simply having an option to sin, but feeling an actual inclination to do so. When we have inclinations to temptations flare up, emotions or desires legitimately beyond our control, it's not a sin if we don't choose to act on it. But would Christ even have had those kinds inclinations? A more mundane example would be his anger at the moneychangers in the temple (which probably avoids the discussion at all by being proportionate, righteous anger); the obvious example would probably be when the devil tempted him in the desert. So when we say Christ was tempted, do we mean he -felt- temptation, as we do, or just that the -opportunity- to sin was there?

I hope that made sense!
- Anonymous

Not only is that an extraordinarily deep question, you’ve also stumbled into one of the deepest questions of Christian theology of all time… what exactly does it mean that Christ was both fully human and fully divine? For starters, it’s a mystery, and it doesn’t help that I’m not enough of an expert on patristic christology to really give you a full answer, but let’s do what we can.

The Church in the first millennium grappled with questions like this most especially when heresies arose that challenged traditional thinking; it was usually only then that great precision was needed in the definitions of faith. In this case, the relevant heresy was the rather arcane one of “monothelitism”… that Christ had only a single will. The great champion of orthodoxy against monothelitism was St. Maximus the Confessor (or “of Constantinople,” if you prefer), and the final definitive statement of the Church on the question came at the sixth of the ecumenical councils, Constantinople III (681).

Monothelitism is an outgrowth of the slightly more famous heresy of monophysitism, that Jesus’ human nature was completely absorbed into the divine nature.

Orthodox Christian belief holds that there is one Person (the 2nd of the Trinity), two natures (human and divine) and two wills (human and divine) in Jesus. More than his divine nature controlling his human life, as you say, it would be more instructive in this case to point to his human will submitting to his divine will. But that struggle of human submission was a struggle for Jesus too. (There is an excellent discussion of that point here.)

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Just to discuss your definition of temptation for a moment… No, Jesus wouldn’t have had disordered inclinations in himself. But if his human will was truly free, he had the possibility of choosing rightly or wrongly. That’s enough to make temptation, when it presents itself either from without (like the devil’s words to Jesus in the desert) or from within (presumably like the temptations in Gethsemane), real enough. Jesus’ human will cooperates freely with his divine will. So long as we say it’s free, we’re opening ourselves to the horrifying possibility of a divine self-contradiction, but the wonderful truth we confess is that Jesus’ human will never did freely choose to counteract the Father’s will.

So the opportunity to sin was definitely present, and in that sense I think we can say that the temptation was very real.

But, like I said, I’m not nearly expert enough to be talking much about this in public, so I’d be quite interested to know if anyone who’s studied this more can add anything. For your reference, the Catechism discusses the human/divine “interface” in Christ quite at length here, with his wills mentioned in #475. His temptations in the desert are dealt with here, and Gethsemane is here.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Often times, angry people are like drums — they make a lot of noise because they’re empty inside. Love them anyway.

— Mark Hart (The Bible Geek)

Father, I can keep myself from sinful behavior for a good deal of time, but I struggle almost daily to keep away immoral thoughts (anger, jealousy, greed, lust, and so on). I try to stop my thoughts, but I often can't help but dwell on them. This makes it hard to keep a clean slate to receive communion. For example, I will go to confession on Friday with the intention of going to mass on Sunday, but end up sinning by my thoughts sometime between confession and mass again.

What constitutes a sin (venial or mortal)? Are thoughts only sinful if they are dwelled on or acted upon? For example, if I am angry at a person for a moment, but neither dwell on that anger nor express it to them, is that anger still a sin? However, thoughts aren't always easy to suppress. Many times I'll try to stop immoral thoughts, but just can't end my preoccupation with them-- if I can't help certain thoughts, are they still sinful then?

**I've used the word "thought" a lot. I realize that I may be confusing thoughts with feelings or acting as if they're the same. Is there some fine line that sets thoughts apart from feelings/emotions when it comes to sin?

Sorry if I'm getting too technical, but I'm pretty confused! Thanks for your time.
- Anonymous

Yes, that’s our human condition, isn’t it? Striving to be pure and holy, but finding how often we fail. All of us. The saints had to struggle too. Original sin left its mark! But God is on your side…

Regarding the difference between grave/mortal and venial sin (the difference between killing the life of grace in us and merely wounding it), here are two things I’ve published: this and this. And as you know, it’s only grave/mortal sin that is an obstacle to receiving the Eucharist before you go to Confession. 

About thoughts? Well, it’s always a matter of what I want and desire. Do I want a thought that pops into my mind uninvited? Sometimes those thoughts are holy and sometimes they’re hideous… but either way they weren’t “desired.” They simply show up. Sometimes it’s even an unstoppable barrage. The real question is what I do then, because that’s where “desire” starts.

You’re drawing attention to the “gray area” between what I don’t want and yet what I sort of do want. We’re drawn simultaneously to what’s good for us and to what looks good to us.

We’re only responsible what we do consciously and voluntarily. So when you look back on your actions and have to admit that you consciously (you knew what you were doing) and voluntarily (fully) desired evil for someone or sincerely let yourself get carried away by lustful desires, then yes it was a sin.

But what was the thought?

Anger is merely a passion, something that surges up in us. If we foster it, it can become rage or wound the charity that there should be between us in other ways. So, in the case you mention about suppressed anger, you’re doing the right thing: dominating the passions in you that need to be controlled.

Lust on the other hand is something that draws us towards seriously disordered. Remember Matthew 5:28? “I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” But on the other hand, God is always there to forgive us when we look back to him with truly contrite hearts, and especially then in Confession.

You’re right that thoughts aren’t easy to suppress. It’s a lifetime battle. But, as you say, if you aren’t the one in control and you “can’t help it,” then it isn’t a sin.

Okay, those were some random rambling reflections. They were also very general and generic, so bringing all this up in Confession can actually be very helpful so that the priest can shed light on your specific situation and hopefully help bring greater peace to your conscience. And Confession is helpful anyway, to help us break habits of thinking and make our thoughts more like Christ’s.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

Those who fall alone remain alone in their fall, and they value their souls little since they entrust it to themselves alone.

— Saint John of the Cross (Sayings #8)

How can I not get angry when debating with people who are pro-choice. I try so hard not to take it personal but it just gets me so upset. - tommysmom11-deactivated20110720

It’s natural. Anger is simply an emotion that swells up. We don’t choose it. But we do choose what we do next: We’re in charge of whether we get enraged and say something unchristian, or whether we regain dominion over ourselves.

So where do your opponents come up with all that stuff? It’s important to remember that they’re probably debating in good faith and that they honestly think they’re right and you’re horribly wrong. So in that sense they’re probably just like you. (Even Democrats and Republicans are really identical in the sense that everyone wants what’s best for the country and honestly thinks their program really is what will be best.) All of their arguments are going to be rationalizations encouraged by a deep-down belief that they’re in possession of the truth.

So we really do have to pray for the gift of patience. That there’s a 1-in-a-thousand chance that this conversation will do someone some good, but since the stakes are so high, it’s a chance I have to take, and I can live with a 99.9% failure rate… I can live just planting seeds hoping that something will sprout in the future, by God’s mercy, without my knowledge.

The best teacher for this, though, is Jesus. Look how he debates the scribes and the Pharisees, who were actually genuine hypocrites and not exactly on the same level as the folks you’re debating. There’s a complete snapshot in Mark 12:

  • His arguments are simple and concise, exposing untruth for what it is.
  • He is patient and accepting with those who show good faith (verse 34).
  • His anger only flares up (vv. 38-40) in order to warn others who might end up being led astray by the deception of false teachers.

So just pray a lot for patience! And pray a lot about Luke 6:20-36. You’re on the right path, and if you’re recognizing that the anger gets out of hand sometimes, God is definitely showing you that in order to help you correct it by his grace.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

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