St. Ambrose, commenting on a passage from the Gospel of Luke, tells us:
…where there is true charity there is no room for anger—in other words, that weakness should not be treated with harshness but should be helped. Indignation should be very far from holy souls, and desire for vengeance very far from great souls.
That Gospel passage St. Ambrose comments on, Luke 9:51-56, tells of Jesus heading with determination to Jerusalem. Samaritans had turned away messengers that Jesus had sent out ahead of Him. At this, James and John asked Jesus if He wanted them to call down fire from heaven on those who refused Him, but “Jesus turned and rebuked them…” (Luke 9:55)
Indignation – Not Christlike
The Apostles’ initial human reaction was to take offense, become indignant and strike out in vengeance. But we’re not imitating Christ when we behave like that. We’re not imitating Christ when we let the behaviors of others scandalize and agitate us. The dictionary describes indignation as, “anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean.” When we’re indignant, we’re worked up over something. That something may be a perceived wrong committed against us, or against others. Often however, the situation that drives us to a dithered state simply is our conjecture—it’s our assumption or inference—about someone else’s motives.
Mortification Drives Out Indignation
What’s aggravating us may not even be founded in reality. Nevertheless, it takes our eyes off Jesus. We play into the hands of the enemy. Fr. Bill Watson, SJ, of Sacred Story Institute, spoke at a recent conference on spiritual warfare conducted by the Avila Institute. He reminded us that any place in our heart, mind or soul where Christ doesn’t rule is open to enemy infiltration. Letting incidents aggravate us and cause us anxiety makes us easy targets for the enemy. He went on to tell us that the truly mortified can’t be scandalized by the sins of others. We need to let that sink in—others’ faults and failings won’t raise the ire of someone who is truly close to God. Acting with indignation over others’ behaviors towards us is not even in the repertoire of someone really close to God.
Take That Aggravation or Indignation to Prayer
Fr. Watson also suggested that, like the older brother of the prodigal son, when we get irritated and feel a need to prove others wrong, that’s a sign. It’s a sign that we ought to take the issue to prayer, and ask Jesus what it is that we need to work on. Often, we condemn in others the behavior we need to change. So, that guy who irritates me because he wants to be in charge of everything? Maybe I am the one with a control problem. Perhaps I need to plead for God’s grace to fix me—to grow in humility, kindness and acceptance of others. When it comes right down to it, the only person I can fix is the one I see in the mirror. And, even at that, I can’t do it alone. Self-reliance, a secular American value, won’t get us anywhere spiritually. We need God’s saving grace.
Healing from the Divine Physician
The better we get to know God, the better we come to know ourselves. The closer we get to Him, the more His light shines on us. This allows us to see those areas we may not otherwise have noticed, or maybe didn’t want to notice. Going to Jesus, taking our sinful habits to Him, asking for His merciful love and grace, can let the healing begin. The wounds we carry—and everybody has some—result in our dysfunctional behaviors. Jesus is the Divine Physician. He still makes house calls. He wants to come to us and heal us—but we need to invite Him in. Our wounds, if left untreated, present openings for deadly infection by the evil one.
We need God’s healing to help us overcome irritation, aggravation and the need to prove others wrong. We must let Him heal us to overcome our sinful habits and tendencies. If we let Him heal us, at some point, the failings of others will not scandalize us, nor will we succumb to indignation. We will recognize that they need God’s love and our love. Being more Christlike, we can look with compassion on others who might behave in ways contrary to what we’d expect. Rather than inferring and assuming some ulterior, underhanded motives on their part, we can assume charitable intent instead. At the very least, we can love them where they’re at, seeing them through Jesus’ eyes, staying focused on Him, and on Him in others.
Opportunities for Sanctification, Not Indignation
When we stay focused on Jesus, we can see that, at every moment along the way, Jesus is with us. In each of these moments–both the good and the not-so-good–He’s giving us the opportunity to grow in sanctity. We will benefit if we are open to Him, to His merciful love and the abundance of graces He wants to shower down on us in the sacrament of the present moment. Of course, we need to do our part as well, including the practice of virtuous behaviors in the moment to counter the sinful habits we’re trying to break. Have faith–with God’s grace, “all things are possible.”
Righteous Anger or Indignation
Just to be clear—anger per se is not bad. What this column covers is the wrong-headed side of anger—unrighteous anger, or indignation. Jesus Himself showed righteous indignation in His admonishment of the money changers and vendors in the temple, for example. Anger influences our reason and this influence can move our reason in the right direction or the wrong direction. Anger, when used to protect someone or something can be righteous—a good thing. Yet, anger moving us to acts of vengeance is not good, but sinful. We need to be able to differentiate objectively between righteous anger, and unrighteous anger or indignation in our lives if we wish to cultivate virtuous habits while eliminating sinful habits and imperfections. A good spiritual guide can help us sort through all of this during those times when we’re just too close to the issue or too upset to do it on our own.
O Lord, you know my heart. You know I want to be one with you and to bring souls to you, not push them away. Please grant me the grace to grow in patience, obedience, humility, respect, acceptance, self-denial, kindness, gratitude, charity…[fill in the blank].