Commentary

Letting Go of Wrath and Anger

Rev. Michael P. Orsi | September 24, 2020 | 5:03pm EDT
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A cross stands against the sky. (Photo credit: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)
A cross stands against the sky. (Photo credit: CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP via Getty Images)

A Scripture passage read recently at Mass offers a rebuke to the spirit of our time:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” (Sirach 27:30)

Can you imagine anyone of prominence today calling out the wrath and anger on display in our streets as hateful — or, God forbid, the work of sinners?

Yet there it is for all to see in the violent antics of Black Lives Matter, Antifa, a whole raft of groups and individuals acting on their worst human instincts. They wrap themselves in the mantle of “social justice,” but really they’re indulging in nothing more than the impulse for simple revenge.

In our society, which has strayed so far from the Scripture-based moral norms of our Judeo-Christian heritage, there is no shortage of wrongs in need of correction. Yes, injustice is real. Yes, people do experience unfairness and ill treatment. Even wrongful death.

To look at just the area of police misconduct — the focus of most recent demonstrations — we can’t deny that there have been excesses of force, abuses of official power. Some police officers have done things that are inexplicable. There are bad cops.

But how much wrath and anger can you justify? And for how long?

That passage from Sirach asks poignantly a few lines down: “Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?”

The truth is that you can’t satisfy bitterness. You never reach a point where your resentments are vindicated. All you do is compound human suffering.

This is a truth we’ve all seen played out in life. A situation in my own family illustrates.

I had relatives — Aunt Tootsie and Uncle Harry — who inherited a substantial amount of money from his mother. One day, Aunt Tootsie asked Uncle Harry for some cash, and he told her, “I ain’t got none.”

When Aunt Tootsie inspected the family bank book, she discovered that Uncle Harry was right. Everything was gone. He had blown his entire inheritance at the local off-track betting parlor.

Aunt Tootsie never forgot this blow, and she never forgave it. For 25 years, Uncle Harry slept on the porch. But the impact on their marriage wasn’t the only damage. The animosity between them weighed heavily on their five children, all of whom had emotional problems as a result, and carry the effects to this day (when they’re in their 60s and 70s).

The rationale underlying current civil disturbances is an idea called critical race theory. This is a way of analyzing society that insists all injustices are based on certain structural features.

Racism, for instance, isn’t merely a matter of people’s individual negative attitudes toward those of other ethnic groups. Rather, it reflects a whole array of laws and societal expectations that protect the privileges of white people, and always leave non-whites in positions of disadvantage and dependency.

Given this perspective, hearts can’t really be changed, and society can’t really be improved. Instead, the entire structure must be torn down, to be replaced by political, economic, and social arrangements that promote true justice — justice being defined as total equality, after compensation for previous wrongs.

Anyone who can’t get on board with this way of thinking is deemed to be an enemy. Even those not seen to be actively supportive are suspect. Consequently, people are assaulted, police officers attacked, businesses and even homes burned down.

Today, every group harboring some grievance or other is striking out in ways that don’t fix our problems, but only make our national life worse. And they all can cite reasons which they’re convinced validate their actions.

What they don’t have is forgiveness.

Is forgiveness too simple an idea? Too unrealistic?

Unfortunately, a lot of our churches seems to think so. Too many religious leaders — those very people who should be the first to champion Jesus’ message of forgiveness and reconciliation — have become enamored of critical race theory, seeing themselves as “prophetic voices” for social justice. They’re helping to inflame an already volatile situation, thereby multiplying the damage.

Bill Kassel, a friend and fellow writer, recently put a post on his blog that featured the striking image of a church sign burned in the Kenosha, Wisc. riot. It was the marquee of Bradford Community Church, a congregation affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association. Bill speculated that some of the Kenosha rioters probably had ties to this extremely progressive denomination, and he observed:

“To me this photo is an icon of the falseness and self-destruction of most revolutions — as demonstrated by the Left, over and over again. One can’t help noting that in all the recent outbursts of insurrectionist fervor, the people whom progressives claim to champion have been injured greatly, the community assets on which they depend have been destroyed.”

This too is the price of non-forgiveness. The more we forget the words of Holy Scripture, the more chaos reigns, the more dangerous our society becomes, and the more people suffer.

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.”

We’re all sinners, and we all have to find ways to let go.

A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Fla. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed online here.

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