6. THE OPPOSITE OF MEEKNESS: WRATH
1. Wrath consists in exciting one’s self about something at which one is displeased.
The man who is in a rage is more like a beast than a man. His countenance is distorted, he gnashes his teeth, raises his voice, gesticulates wildly, stamps with his feet and knocks things over, etc. Were he to look in the glass, he would hardly know himself. Those who are of a choleric temperament carry their anger about with them everywhere, as the viper does its venom; they are like a surly dog which barks and bites if you do but touch him; like flint that gives out sparks when it is struck; like an empty vessel which cracks when put on the fire. Were the vessel full of water, it would not break; were the heart full of grace, its patience would not give way. Angry people always put the blame of their anger on others, but experience proves that they give way to irritability when they are alone. Zeal for God’s glory is called just anger; such was the anger Our Lord displayed, when He drove the sellers of doves and the money changers out of the Temple (John ii.), or Moses, when, returning from the Mount, he saw the people worshipping the golden calf. Just anger is not really anger; it is the offspring of charity, and like charity, is patient, kind, calm, and not actuated by hatred. Just anger is quite lawful. “Be ye angry and sin not” (Ps. iv. 5). That anger alone is sinful which desires to take personal revenge.
2. Those who indulge anger injure their health, temporarily lose the use of reason, make themselves hated, and incur the danger of losing eternal salvation.
How foolishly those act who are transported with anger! They punish themselves for another man’s fault. Anger is prejudicial to the health and shortens one’s life. It causes the gall to overflow, and poisons the blood. The man who is in a rage is like the angry bee which loses its sting, or like a volcano, that widens its crater and burns itself out. Anger exhausts the body in every part. When a man is in a rage, he trembles in every limb, his heart beats high, his tongue falters, his face burns, his eyes glow like fire, he shouts aloud. Anger cherished in the breast destroys life as the worm at the root of a tree. “Envy and anger shorten a man’s days” (Ecclus. xxx. 26). Many men have had a stroke brought on by anger, some have fallen down dead through rage. If anger is so hurtful to the body, what must it be to the soul! Anger temporarily deprives a man of the use of reason. Every violent emotion troubles the understanding. The mind of an angry man is like the surface of the sea when lashed into fury by the waves; it reflects nothing distinctly. Aristotle compares the effect of anger on the mind to that of smoke in the eyes, or it may be compared to a fog, through which it is impossible to see things in their true proportions. Anger is an intoxication, a temporary madness; for one who is thoroughly enraged is not master of his own actions. Hence St. Francis of Sales, speaking of one who was mad with anger, said: “Lord, forgive him; he knows not what he does.” Thus in his anger a man will act most unjustly; he will do what he afterwards regrets. The anger of man worketh not the justice of God. Men in their anger are worse than wild beasts, for the lion when he is enraged does not fall upon his companion lions, whereas the irate man vents his wrath upon his fellow-men. He is worse than the evil spirits, for they live in amity with one another, although they are the authors of all dissension. And how men rage against one another! Whence come blows, murders, feuds, lawsuits? A man who is easily provoked to anger is hated by his fellow-men; he is as little welcome as a hurricane or a waterspout; every one avoids an angry man as every one gets out of the way of a mad dog. He has no -friends: “Be not a friend to an angry man, and do not walk with a furious man” (Prov. xxii. 24). Men are easily led by calm reason, but they resist if an angry man attempts to domineer over them. It is easier to deal with a brute beast than with a man who is prone to anger, for the beast may be tamed, but with the wrathful man one is never safe. He who gives way to wrath is in danger of eternal damnation, for he deprives himself of grace. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the heart where anger abides, for where anger is there is no peace. As the inhabitant of a house constructed of wood is in constant danger of having it burnt down, so the choleric man is in constant danger of injuring his soul and being cast into everlasting fire. In fact hell has already begun for him, since he is a prey to unceasing agitation and unrest.
3. Anger must be overcome in the following manner: We must never speak or act when we are angry, but if possible, be take ourselves to prayer. If in our anger we have injured any one, we should make amends for the wrong done without delay.
One must never speak nor act when one is angry. One should do as mariners do; when a storm arises they cast anchor, and wait until the tempest is over. St. Francis of Sales, on being asked how he could remain so imperturbably placid in regard to persons who were raging with anger, replied: “I have made an agreement with my tongue never to utter a word while my heart is excited.” A heathen philosopher once counselled the Emperor Augustus to repeat the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet when he felt within him the ebullition of angry passions. “Let every man be slow to speak and slow to anger” (Jas. i. 19). Silence is an act of patience; this enables one to conquer. When the excitement is allayed, one can act as one thinks best. Prayer is very efficacious as a means of dispelling anger. When we feel the rising of passion within us, we should do as the apostles did when a storm arose on the lake. They went to Our Lord for succor. If we do so, God will command the waves of anger to be still, and calm will ensue. The saints counsel us to repeat silently an Ave Maria as a means of driving away the devil who tempts us. Or one may recite the Gloria Patri; at any rate we must have recourse to prayer immediately, for if we delay, our anger will gain ground, and will not be easily quelled. If we have offended any one in our anger, we should make amends by extreme politeness. “Let not the sun go down upon your anger” (Eph. iv. 26). Wrath frequently begets hatred. “It is better,” says St. Francis of Sales, “never to let anger into thy heart, than to keep it within the bounds of prudence and moderation; for it is like a viper which if it once gets its head through a hole, slips its whole body through; and once admitted, it is no easy matter to drive it out.”
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