Over the years of counseling and confessing, a priest finds certain trends, common threads of experience. For some it is a pattern of sinful habits. For others it is difficulty dealing with others. One of the patterns that I most encounter is anger.
I don’t intend to infringe upon the intimacy of confession or counseling for the sake of giving examples, so I will use a transcript from the Academy Award winning film “Crash”. (Pardon me if I use a film that has some morally offensive scenes and language, but nowadays it’s hard to avoid). Toward the end of the film, Jean, played by Sandra Bullock, is talking on the phone with a friend:
“Carol, I just thought that I would wake up today and I would feel better, you know? But I was still mad. And I realized... I realized that it had nothing to do with my car being stolen. I wake up like this every morning! I am angry all the time, and I don't know why.”
Feeling “angry all the time” is reflected in everything we say and do, and because of that we end up offending those around us, especially our families. Anger, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins. At the same time it is one of our very human passions.
Consider what the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about passions:
The passions are the feelings, the emotions or the movements of the sensible appetite - natural components of human psychology - which incline a person to act or not to act in view of what is perceived as good or evil. The principal passions are love and hatred, desire and fear, joy, sadness, and anger. The chief passion is love which is drawn by the attraction of the good. One can only love what is good, real or apparent. (Compendium 370)
Stop! Read that again. We are drawn to and act upon what we perceive as good. Hatred, fear and anger are adverse reactions to what we perceive as evil. Now here’s the rub: how much of what we perceive as evil really is. Hold on! Don’t jump to conclusions. I haven’t made my point yet.
Often in confession I ask the penitent who feels anger to take a deep breath and think back: how many times in your life have you acted out of a real desire to do harm to another person. It can happen. But the fact is we often end up offending others, not out of a desire to do harm, but because we let things slip, or are not aware of their sensitivities.
Then I ask, think of the person who most offends you. Do you really think that person wakes up every morning scheming of how to make your life miserable? To date, I have not had one person answer “yes” to that question. Nevertheless, we perceive ill intentions in others acts, and that makes us angry.
How profound are Jesus’ words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) The Pharisees acted according to what they perceived what true. Was their perception correct? Of course not. Did some truly act out of a desire to do evil? Maybe so. Can I know who and why? Never. Therefore, am I in a position to judge them?
As I look back at events, acts and persons entwined in my journey since I entered the Legion, I cannot pinpoint any intentionally aimed at doing me harm. Most were caught up in a system perceived to be good.
But if I act on any of the sentiments of anger, I only do harm to myself, and may end up doing harm to others. I need to recognize the sentiments of anger and frustration and act on them in a way that is healthy for me personally and edifying for the souls under my care.
I cannot resent or hold a grudge against anyone, not even Fr Maciel. It does me no good. That doesn’t mean I accept or approve of his actions. Nor does it mean I accept or approve of the errors engrained into the methods of the Legion. That will be dealt with when the Holy Father sends his delegate and indicates how the Legion is to be purified.
For my part, I have spoken openly and freely with the apostolic Visitor, and I have written extensively to Fr Alvaro and my territorial director about what I see needs to be done.
Looking toward the future I am excited about starting over. I await anxiously the decision of the bishops I have contacted, and I am getting ready spiritually and psychologically to make that transition.