If we do not develop the habits of patience, compassion, mercy and forgiveness, all of which are rooted in God’s law, we will not be able to control the terrible winds of anger when they come upon us.
Anger! Once again we are given very practical advice in this passage from Proverbs. Hot-tempered anger is one of the Seven Deadly Sins and, as we all have seen in our lives, it can be a source of truly terrible suffering and injustice. We need to break this open a bit as well, so that we can understand this passage more deeply.
There is such a thing as righteous anger, of course. It is proper to be angry with injustices of any kind. But righteous anger is anger that is controlled and turned into creative and positive energy. It is never overcome with blind rage, or vengeance. It remains clear-headed, intelligent, and focused on the good of all. This kind of anger leaves room for mercy and forgiveness. It is the kind of anger that is ruled by patient endurance. And because it is focused on true, redemptive justice, mercy and forgiveness, it is a force for positive change. This kind of anger leaves room for the workings of the Holy Spirit, for the good of the one injured and that of the one, or the many, who have caused the injury.
The anger that is deadly, the kind of anger that this passage from Proverbs is warning us about is something else. It is that anger that is without constraints of any kind. It can be sudden, or it can be premeditated. It can explode with blind rage, striking out without control, destroying anything and everything in its path. Or it is the kind that stews in a soup of resentment, biding its time to take vengeance on the other, without mercy, denying any possibility of forgiveness. This latter kind is even worse because of its calculating nature, using the intellect for evil purposes. There is no room for the Holy Spirit in this kind of anger. Rather, as the great Medieval satirist, Geoffrey Chaucer, tells us in his Parson’s Tale from his book, Canterbury Tales, this is the Devil’s territory and it gives rise to things like “manslaughter, treachery, lies, flattery, scorn, discord, menaces, and curses.” There is no room for the Holy Spirit in this kind of anger. The author of Proverbs, therefore, is giving us some very practical, soul-saving, advice here when he warns us not to become friends with those who are hot-tempered, or easily angered, for “your may learn [their] ways and get yourself ensnared.”
Think of our souls as sailboats and our emotions, like anger, as the winds that drive us forward. The sailboat of our soul needs a tiller and a rudder, in order to control the directions we take when the winds of anger arise and impel us forward. The tiller and rudder for our eternal soul is our conscience and the law of God. If we do not develop the habits of patience, compassion, mercy and forgiveness, all of which are rooted in God’s law, we will not be able to control the terrible winds of anger when they come upon us. Today’s passage from Proverbs tells us not to make friends with the ill-tempered because we may learn their ways and become “ensnared.” The same is true in the reverse. If we travel with friends who have developed the habits associated with God’s law, and the habits of self-discipline, and we learn these habits ourselves, and we will be freed from the terrible forces and unwanted consequences of uncontrolled anger. We will be empowered to bring about positive and creative change for the good of all, and to sail our souls forward toward God with a truer compass.
Lord, we pray that you pour out your graces upon us so that we may learn to follow your ways with more courage each day. It is by your grace that we are able to develop the habits of self-control. Help us to receive the abundance of your graces with humble and contrite hearts. Strengthen us in our daily efforts to live in accord with your law in all that we say and do. We pray these things believing in the power of your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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