I’m mad. Spitting mad. Irate, outraged, furious, frustrated, livid, fuming.
Angry doesn’t have enough synonyms to sum up the fury I feel at the most recent sex abuse scandals to shake the Catholic Church. I can heap adjective upon adjective, yet everything falls flat in the face of depraved evil and systemic injustice.
The men who perpetrated such heinous crimes and the men who covered them up have made a mockery of the church I love. I cannot stay silent.
In the weeks since the news broke, nearly every Catholic I know has struggled to digest and respond to the sickening scope of evil in our midst.
But when I turned to Scripture for help and hope, what I found was clear.
“Putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:25-27)
This Scripture leapt off the page on the night I read the news of the grand jury report from Pennsylvania. Far from a simpering plea “not to go to bed mad,” this exhortation is quite the opposite: a prophetic cry to be angry in holy, timely ways. Not to resort to sin, but to act in truth for the good of the Body of Christ.
For years I thought that anger was my downfall, especially in parenthood. I joked about my Irish temper, but I struggled as a new mother to control my impatience and frustration, not to erupt when I wanted to explode.
Anger was a sin, I thought. No one ever told me anger could be holy.
But throughout Scripture, I see anger rise to the surface as a clarion call, loud and clear. Over and over these stories have risen in my prayer over the past few weeks, reminding me this anger is where God calls me to be.
Think of Jesus’ anger in the temple, flipping tables and driving out with whips. Pure and perfect ire. By definition as a divine act, his anger was not sinful but holy.
“And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.” (Mark 11:15-16)
Holy anger is righteous, not self-righteous. It is prophetic, not oppressive. It is vocational, not vindictive. A call to each of us to wake up and act against evil.
When I get angry about ordinary human concerns, it’s because I want MY will to be done. I want to be heard, I want to be right, I want to be in control.
Holy anger is the opposite. In the face of evil, it demands that God’s will be done.
“For mercy and anger alike are with him; his wrath comes to rest on the wicked.” (Sirach 5:6)
Holy anger shows up in every story of Scripture. From the beginning God holds mercy and anger together. What’s more, every quality of God is eternal. Which means that if divine love and compassion have always existed, then so has holy anger.
But holy anger does not deform. It transforms, restores, and heals.
“He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)
Holy anger is what our church needs right now, to spur us on to change.
. . .
Here are 4 truths I am learning about holy anger.
It runs clear.
Holy anger is not clouded by my own selfishness. It is sparked by evil and spurred by injustice. When I draw closer to God, I feel this anger confirmed and clarified, flowing mighty and strong like a roaring river.
Holy anger doesn’t flare up fast and furious like my own impatience. It endures. Beyond mood or moment, this anger rises but does not simmer down. “Slow to anger” is how we hear God described in Scripture, over and over. Slow to anger, yes. But still to anger.
Holy anger is communal: it pulls together the Body of Christ. Since the scandals broke, I have witnessed the gathering of courageous, committed Catholics who are determined to do their part in speaking out against evil and injustice. Although our approaches or emphases may differ, the impulse to unite in outrage is clear.
Everything that is of God exists for God’s purposes in the world. Holy anger has a telos: an end toward which it leads. It is not fury for fury’s sake, but anger with a purpose: to root out evil, to restore justice, to renew healing. We cannot be content to stew and sulk. Holy anger compels us to act.
So what do we do with our holy anger?
- We stay clear.
- We stay angry.
- We stay together.
- We act.
Stay alert, stay patient and persistent, stay faithful to the truth, stay committed to change. Here are concrete steps for prayer and action to get started: support victims, contact bishops, support good priests, keep praying. Write letters. Talk to your children.
We are not wrong to be angry at what is happening in the church. Quite the opposite.
This is not the end; this is only the beginning. But holy anger will lead us.
“For he shall rescue the needy when they cry,
the poor who have no one to help.
He will have pity on the weak and the needy,
and save the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life.”