Anger and Reason
My 43-year-old son reminded me several weeks ago how he and his younger brother used to hide from me when they were small and I was angry with them.
I was not happy with my life as an adult and was often very depressed, although I did not recognize it at the time. I was also very angry very often.
Unreasonably, I used to confuse their disobedience of me with a desire to hurt me. I often said in turn hurtful things to my children in my rage. I did not let my reason govern my anger.
The Catechism notes about passions such as anger that:
In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will….It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason. (CCC 1767)
My son had confronted me before about my anger. I used to be amused at his recounting of what I thought were “the good old days”. I would unreasonably excuse my behavior to him, as I thought he should learn to handle it and get used to what had happened in the past. He was no angel, and I had even mistakenly believed in my inferiority that he and his brother had shared a certain dislike of me.
I knew a lot of people who often have expressed anger and wrath, and I did not really think it was that bad of a thing. Sometimes I thought the entire world was angry or wrathful at real or imagined things.
My own father was often angry, and I seemed to have learned this behavior from him. My father saw nothing wrong with his anger, and neither did I, until a few years ago.
Recognizing Ungoverned Anger
That was when I saw the effect anger was having on my marriage and every other part of my life. I decided to pray for release from my bondage to unreasonable anger. With God’s grace and a firm commitment to change, I had a remarkable healing nearly two years ago. My depression did not go away, but I learned how to be kinder to my wife and to my children and grandchildren.
Perhaps that was why it stung so much when my son emphasized how harmful my anger had been, not so much to himself, but to his younger brother, Aaron. Aaron had died in a police shooting in 2002 at the age of 26. He had been suicidal and had made threatening actions towards the police, who mistakenly shot him in what they believed was self-defense.
Until now, I have never thought of my anger as being very harmful to Aaron, who had been depressed for most of his life. This went along with my previously held belief that depression was a self-inflicted weakness. Therefore, in my unreasonable thinking, Aaron’s depression had been his fault. I disguised my own depression by being a driven and aggressive type-A personality at work and at home. But Aaron lacked that facility for hypocrisy and did not seem able to cope with hurtful anger.
The Grace to Let Anger Be Governed by Reason
Now I can see that my anger might have had a deadly effect on Aaron. I was far more culpable than I had ever believed.
This was an entirely new development for my spiritual life, as I realized I now needed to confess my past harmful anger. I had to face the deeper woundedness and sinfulness still defining my life, including inferiority and a lack of proper moral reason. I went to confession and then called my older son and apologized to him for overlooking this critical element in his life and in the life of his younger brother.
He accepted my apology, but said this was something he would still like to discuss in person. That has not yet occurred. I believe this will help me in my governing of my passions with reason, an area still yet to be fully formed in my inner life, although the grace for this development is now present, as we know from scripture, “…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more….” Romans 5:20.
I also asked my deceased son for his forgiveness. I have not yet heard back from him.
I am still depressed in spite of trying numerous medications and therapy. I will try another one soon.
I know Jesus wants me to rise with Him. I know that I will have some consolation in Easter when I visit with my older son.