Monday, September 17, 2012

Anger - Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have you ever been corrected when you didn’t ask to be corrected? Called out by your boss or a co-worker… Your spouse… When it happens, more often than not, we feel embarrassed… and a little angry.  
I couldn’t help but think that Peter was a little embarrassed and maybe a little angry after having been rebuked today. Peter had these lofty ideas for the Messiah: the Messiah would be a military leader; He would dominate the world and unite Israel through the wrath of God…. But Jesus says, “Peter, you’re wrong. That’s not how I’m going to rule. I’m going to suffer and die…”

I think this made Peter a little mad. Eventually, Peter's anger will be healed. But Judas… Judas will hold on to his anger. He’s thinking the same way Peter is about the Messiah. And so Judas is being called out as well. The news that Jesus the Messiah must suffer makes Judas angry. And Judas, from this point on, is going to let his anger get the best of him. He is going to plot and get revenge. He is going to betray Jesus.

We’ve all been angry. Maybe someone disrespected you at work. Maybe someone disobeyed you at home. Sometimes, we start to ruminate over the anger and how we’ve been offended. And we start to think how we can get even or how we can save face. We might take the anger up a notch and bring up past hurts. We might entertain wrath or violence.

If you watch the news, it doesn’t take long to conclude that the world suffers from an anger problem. Anger in the Middle East, anger at home. Anger on the road. Maybe we need to do something about all this anger.

The first thing we must admit is that anger can act like a trance sometimes. Perhaps an illustration....           

Have you ever gone driving and, during the course of your driving, you forget that you’re driving and you space out, and then you reach your destination—only to wonder: “How did I get here?” It’s a little scary if it should happen to you. You think: “Did I pass any cars on my way here? What turns did I make?”

I had a similar experience. My aunt recently moved from Festus to the Queen of All Saints area. (I know, we’re not perfect… Just kidding QAS… we’re family, Catholics, big hug after Mass, ok?) And I was going to see my aunt’s home. So, I’m really scattered on this day and I get in my car and I drive to 55 and I have two options: go south to Festus or north to QAS. Well, I put the car on auto-pilot and I drive to Festus. All the way to Festus. I made it all the way to Hwy A. And I get there and I wake up from my spiritual coma and I’m like: “how did I get here? I gotta turn this car around! I don’t want to be here!”

Same goes with anger—or, really, with anything that can en-trance us: maybe it’s physical suffering, maybe we’re grieving something, maybe we’re anxious. We can get in such a trance that we stop thinking about everything else and all we focus on is that one thing... We start to believe that we have a monopoly on suffering—that no one else suffers. We feel sorry for ourselves or we become bitter. “Everyone is against me.” And we start hatching plots. Or maybe we start taking our anger and our frustrations out on random people—like the kids or people driving by. (It is a rather recent development in these past decades, “Road Rage.”)

Perhaps another illustration.....

Consider the trance like the little child that is throwing a tantrum. The mom tries to console the little child by saying, “Tommy, you don’t need that candy bar.”… “Tommy, your tantrum is hurting your mom.” “Tommy, do you remember that God is with you right now…?”  And what does little Tommy cry out: “I don’t care! I want the train!” Or, if he is a teenager, Tommy pouts: “Leave me alone!”

When we are en-tranced in anger, we throw everything that we’ve learned and everything we’ve become out the window. We say to God: “I don’t care! Leave me alone!” This is why the angry person can’t go to heaven. He is so hell-bent on holding on to his anger, such that he weighs himself down. He doesn’t believe and doesn’t allow God to enter in and bring him joy. And so the angry person tells everyone to “Go to h***.” And that’s ironic: because that’s where he’s going if he doesn’t let God in.

You see, the one who is angry must turn the car around. He's going the wrong way. He's going to miss his exit. He's gonna get in a wreck. He's gonna end up going to the wrong place.

The Lord wants to break into our being en-tranced by sin and our anger and our pain and our worry. Isaiah tells us today:
The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear.
Hear what? Maybe for those who struggle with anger or anxiety, we need to hear Jesus say to us once again:
                        Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.
                        Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.
That’s the first thing we must do. Let Jesus break through the trance, through the anger.

I don’t know about you, but this is tough. It is so much easier to be angry! But, if there was a time when someone could have been angry, couldn’t it have been Jesus on the Cross? Wouldn’t that have been a good time for Him to be angry? I mean, He really could have laid into those that abandoned Him, all those that had seen His miracles and yet shamefully condemned Him to a Cross.

But what does Jesus do in that moment, He remembers God. He doesn’t enter into the trance. And so he turns to the good thief and says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!”

He blesses the guy! He doesn’t curse. He blesses! I mean, if we’re in the car and someone cuts us off, do we say: “God bless you! …”?   Of course not. *grumble grumble grumble…* It is really difficult to love when we’re angry.
So, the first thing we need to do is interrupt the anger, break free of the trance. There are some tangible steps that we must take here:
1. If you’re angry, find someone that you can trust and that you can talk to—vent. Don’t be like the volcano that erupts. Go ahead and vent to a friend behind closed doors. Just make sure that this friend is not a gossip. (And yes, we will need to be that kind of friend to others when they need to vent too).
            2. When you’re angry, go to your room, close the door, take your pillow, and yell into it. Yes, this seems childish and stupid, but then again, so is punching holes in the walls. Hit your mattress so that you don’t hit anything else. (My mom got me a punching bag… I would take a baseball bat to it… Good stuff)
            3. Go for a walk. Exercise. Blow off some steam there.
            4. Ask the question: What is at the root of my anger? Am I grieving something?
            5. Interrupt the trance of anger: Remember that you are in the presence of God! St. Ignatius Loyola recommended that every day we do an Examination of Consciousness. This is different than an examination of conscience (that deals with sins…). The Examination of Consciousness is taking a moment out of your day and reminding yourself: “I am in the presence of God”—Am I aware of His presence? Have I been working with Him today? Have I been focusing on anything to the detriment of my consciousness of Him? Are my heart, eyes, and ears open.

It is the work of God to help us move from anger to love. We need His grace all the more! This is why the confessional is so important. This is why reception of the Eucharist is essential. This is why, too, when we are angry, we must immediately begin to pray and ask the Holy Spirit, who is Love Itself, to bring us peace and healing. It is the Holy Spirit that will help us to be temperate when we have righteous anger-- the good kind of anger that we should have and which motivates us to stand up and protect those who are being abused or when a country kills its weakest, like the baby in the womb...
We are reminded of the words of St. James today about faith and works. It is really, really easy to say, “Yeah, I believe in God, the Father, the almighty…” or to say, “Yeah, I believe that Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior.” Sure, it’s easy to proclaim our faith with our lips, but St. James says that it cannot stay there. What we do here in this parish church must be translated into good works. Into love. We cannot say that we are men and women of faith if we depart from here and immediately start tearing down family members in anger.

Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians says:
if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:2).
Love, Paul continues
is patient and kind; … it is not irritable or resentful;… Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  
Jesus takes it a step further when he says:
                        Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Our salvation is dependent upon this. In life, we are going to face the same offenses that Jesus faced, the same ill-treatment foretold in Isaiah, the angry shouts of Crucify Him, Crucify Him. But, with His help, we will not only endure the Cross, but from it we will, like Him, become a means for blessings and mercy. And we will have discovered the way to eternal life.

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