Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Continuing my reflections on the seven deadly or capital sins, today I will discuss the deadly sin of anger.

In its discussion of anger, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By recalling the commandment, ‘You shall not kill,’ our Lord asked for peace of heart and denounced murderous anger and hatred as immoral. ... If anger reaches the point of a deliberate desire to kill or seriously wound a neighbor, it is gravely against charity; it is a mortal sin” (#2302).

St. Thomas Aquinas described anger in terms of a desire for revenge. He said, “To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,” but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution “to correct vices and maintain justice.”

In the Gospels, Jesus said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:22). Yet we also read that Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers and those who were selling in the temple (Matt. 21:12). This suggests that there is a time and a place for justifiable anger. Either way, our use of anger renders us liable to judgment, but God will decide if our anger was motivated by hatred and a desire for vengeance, or out of zeal to fight against injustice.

In keeping with this distinction, the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines anger as, “An emotion which is not in itself wrong, but which, when it is not controlled by reason or hardens into resentment and hate, becomes one of the seven capital sins. Christ taught that anger is a sin against the fifth commandment.” But the fact that anger can also have a positive aspect can be seen in the fact that the Catechism refers approvingly to the “anger that resists evil” (#1765).

We are appropriately angry when we see crime, illegal activities, unfair treatment and discrimination. This righteous anger motivates us to do something about such wrongs, but we still must be careful against taking matters into our own hands. If we do, we can become a “lynch mob.” We must translate our outrage into legitimate means through the proper channels of authority and the rule of law.

Sometimes, though, our anger is driven by our own self-interests, perceived hurts, insults and slights. Even if we don’t express our anger, it can fester in our hearts and burden our souls. That is why Jesus urges us to replace such anger with peace.

Replacing anger with peace is not just a concern for individuals, but also for nations. The despicable use of chemical weapons in Syria justifiably gives rise to anger. But here, too, we must be careful that this justifiable anger not mutate into an unjustifiable urge to seek vengeance through military action that risks escalating a tense situation into an uncontrollable international conflict.

Throughout the events of the past few weeks, Pope Francis, has been a calm and steady voice for a peaceful solution to the situation in Syria. The Holy Father had proclaimed Sept. 7, the vigil of the birthday of Mary, the Queen of Peace, to be a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the entire Mideast region, and throughout the whole world.

Speaking ahead of the traditional Angelus prayer with pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square on Sept. 1, Pope Francis said, “Humanity needs to see gestures of peace, and to hear words of hope and of peace.” He added, “Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.”

Pope Francis also issued a forceful condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. “There is the judgment of God, and also the judgment of history, upon our actions – (judgments) from which there is no escaping.”

As the G20 Summit convened in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Sept. 5 and 6, Pope Francis sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his capacity as host of the summit. Present for the G20 Summit were the heads of government or heads of state from 20 major economies, including President Barack Obama of the United States. Pope Francis wrote, “To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” the Pope urged. “Rather, let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously supported by the international community.”

The Holy Father’s pleas and the prayers for peace of so many people have apparently been answered, at least for now, in light of the diplomatic breakthrough on securing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. As a result, the imminent threat of U.S. military action has been averted for the moment. The successful implementation of this agreement remains to be seen, so we must continue to pray for a peaceful outcome for the sake of everyone concerned.

May God give us this grace. Amen.