What do you do when something really terrible is done or allowed to happen to you or a loved one, and you find yourself consumed with anger if not rage that just wants to pulverize those who have acted as your enemy or the enemy of your family?
We are all too familiar with Jesus' teaching, even commandment, to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us and desire their good. What's difficult is actually doing that.
May I share with you, reader, that one of my deep joys as a pastor is how readily children of God such as yourself are willing to entrust to us priests the amazing adventures of spirit that you - as we all do - encounter in your daily life, either to share with us the wonder of what the Blessed Trinity are doing in your soul, your marriage, your family, your lives, or to seek a little guidance among the many choices that open up on the path ahead of you, or simply out of need for a little light to better understand what is happening to you as you get caught up in thickets of thoughts and feelings in the very heat of the action as event unfold all around you.
How beautiful your soul is when, in the midst of the intense anguish you may be experiencing, you still manage to care for your family, for others with whom you are relating, and even for the Lord; as you struggle with the intensity of your feelings, especially if you have an impression that these are unworthy of Him or in some way impure.... For example, by simply observing a wrong being done we can feel somehow defiled by what we saw, even though we bear in no way any responsibility for it. Another example, perhaps more common and at the same time also difficult, is the myriad forms in which we can and do experience anger, which also leaves us in a feeling of defilement or impurity, if for no other reason than the sheer primitive intensity of this emotion and the aftermath of anger clinging to us as an impure residue.
How wrong we are but also right. It is true that anger and indeed many of our feelings have a primitive quality about them, I mean that they are raw, located right in our gut as it were, and intense, and so totally what they are. Let's examine anger as an example, since it is so common an experience. We must say that anger is exactly what it is, and it is not the same as love at all, but that does not mean that they are exclusive, because there are different centers of feeling within us. I sense that just a little more understanding about how we work as human beings can help us a great deal to find a bit more perspective that can allow us to find the freedom inside ourself that we ache for so much to be able to make the decisions we long to be able to make.
What is in a way most intense in us is the flesh, the body, because it is, well, so all pervasive, we just can't ever get away from our flesh. Hindu and Buddhist and other religious people give themselves all kinds of disciplines to deprive the flesh and as it were starve it into submission, to reduce the hold it has on the spirit and keeps it as it were earthbound, but that is not the way that Jesus revealed and came to the Earth to give us.
We have been created as souls enfleshed in the body, which as it were clothes the soul and lets it touch and be touched and interact with the creation all around us. The flesh has been made good by our Father, and its greatest virtue or strength is its truthfulness. What I mean is that if you burn yourself it will hurt, and if you rest yourself your body wants to hug and thank you for caring for it, and so on. Our body allows us to make contact with others with affection or understanding or compassion, or romance, or discipline, or friendship, through a look, a touch, a tone of voice, and so many different and creative ways of giving expression in a visible or audible way to what is hidden deep inside of us.
However, our body and its movements, sensations, emotions, and feelings, is also at times clouded by what are called passions and appetites. If unbridled, untamed, unbefriended, these passions and appetites can enslave the entire body and the person inhabiting it, confuse the whole person, and even tear it apart. That is why is simply is not wise to allow the flesh and its ways dominate our whole person, and why we must integrate our other levels, centers, or dimensions, or whichever way you would prefer to speak of our mind and its faculties and our spirit and its powers.
It is in what we call the mind that come together very complex processes that make up what we call the human consciousness or awareness: apprehension - which processes all our sensory information sent to the brain; understanding - which makes sense of all that data; memory - which stores all that sensory data as well as all our conscious and even unconscious experiences; imagination - which takes all that we have stored and can play with it to create new patterns, images, ideas; reason - which can take the realm of ideas, experiences, and motives and put order in it and relate it to everything else that exists outside of ourselves and inside of us; and so on. Then, there is the realm of the spirit or soul.
That, my Dear Reader, is far more subtle than the mind, though the mind itself can reach great heights and depths of subtle understanding and interpretation. That is because the spirit or soul, more than any other part of us human beings, is most like God, like each of the three divine Persons, because like them, our soul is immortal and can never be destroyed by anything that exists in the universe, except God - the three Divine Persons themselves - but they are committed never to do any soul any harm, let alone destroy one.
Having said that, we don't know what exactly a soul is, because we don't know exactly what a divine person is either, not the way we know what an acorn is, or a stone, or a neuron that does what it does in our brain. We know primarily by intuition that we have a soul, some dimension beyond what science can measure, in the very heart of what makes us what and who we are, because we are much more than the sum of what can be seen, observed, or explained. We also know from the exceptionally determined and humble ones among us, the saints, that in the realm of the soul, a different set of rules or laws is at work.
Whereas in the world, we must make efforts to achieve anything or get anywhere, in the soul, we must accept freely to be docile - willing to be led, like a child, by the hand; passive - willing to wait however long it takes for the moment to be right; receptive - willing to let the Divine Persons do what they do best and when they decide is the best time to do it and to receive whatever they decide to do within us.
When we or someone we love has been or is being hurt, violated, or threatened in any way, and especially in a serious way, we have every right to be angry but often feel somehow defiled by our anger and are in anguish that this anger is coloring and dominating our life at all the other levels and preventing us from being truly present to our family, to God, to colleagues, to friends, and even to ourself.
One primary reason is because anger is a God given attribute that has a very specific and time limited purpose. The longer we entertain it the more it tends to poison or turn against us and eat us up from within. If someone steps on your toe you automatically shout out "Hey, that's my foot!" That's a form of anger and the anger is a messenger bringing the pain in your foot to your attention so that the rational part of you has the sudden surge of power and strength to act: in this case to shout out and rush to the defense of your foot to undo the harm already done and prevent any further harm.
The greater the harm, threat, danger, or loss, the more intense the anger, because the obstacles to overcome are probably proportionate to the harm, threat, danger or loss. However, just exploding into action may not and probably won't achieve effective deliverance, because we would just be acting blindly and only by random chance might we succeed in accomplishing what needs to be done. So, our body's rush of anger needs to go and consult with all the powers our mind can muster in order to get a full grasp of what's going on and what's at stake and what are the ramifications of every conceivable course of action we want to entertain in response.
All that is well and good, but it still isn't enought to come up with a truly human response, because we need to go further and consult our soul or spirit, where we know by intuition and by faith if not by experience that the three Divine Persons always dwell with us unless we are in mortal sin. Even then they only stand outside the door until we decide we've had enough of the sin, repent, and ask them to return, and they come rushing like loving parents. As we consult our own soul and the Blessed Trinity abiding in our soul, we gain a much wider perspective and see a lot more possibilities of action and consequences and ramifications, and have the greatest freedom to consider carefully what we want to do in accord with the MEANING AND PURPOSE WE WANT TO GIVE TO OUR LIFE. (This is an expression which I first heard at this Institute and which they use in the course of their formation program designed to help people live their lives with greater autonomy.)
That is why what Jesus did on the cross was so remarkable. Yes, He fully suffered cruel agony on the cross, and didn't appreciate it one bit, but He remained in touch with that part of himself, his soul, where He shared the Father's love for human beings - even the most wretched sinner - because by intuition as a human being He knew what He naturally understood as the Son of God: that each human soul has infinite value because it has been personally created by the Father. Just as each human child born of parents was specially made in love and conceived in a moment of great self giving by a husband and wife, and so is special and unique, and that uniqueness and value becomes visible in time as the child grows up and chooses or fails to choose to open up and develop much or all of its potential; so it is with each soul.
On a human level, if you harbor your anger too long without acting you may begin to have homicidal fantasies - even though you may have no intention of ever acting them out - so you need to find some way to channel your anger, which is raw power, into some constructive form of action. Anger aroused by harm done, something lost, or persistent threat of harm can be resolved in one of three ways: 1. If the thing lost is returned or the threat ceases; 2. if something of greater value than the thing lost is given as compensation or an apology is offered for threats already made; 3. failing #1 or 2, all that remains is to let go of the thing lost, to release it and accept its loss, or to find some way to either live with the ongoing threats or move away from them to an effectively safe distance.
Any of these three will allow anger's message to be received and resolved, and the anger will dissipate. The best motivator for #3 is love, not the cheap sentimental hollywood feel good kind, but simply a pure hearted desire for the good of the other and letting go of any desire or attempt to change the other. This is what Jesus commanded us his disciples to do because it is the true test and way for us to practice being like Him and children of our Father in heaven, because this is the way He loves each of us.
None of us deserve the great immeasureable riches of his love and eternal life, not matter how good we think we are. Ultimately, our very life and breath are gifts being offered us from moment to moment and over which we have no power or control as to how much longer we will go on living. Even greater are the gifts of inner life and love by which we have begun to live with the same life and love the three divine Persons have inside and among themselves.
This is a far greater and more priceless gift, and we can only live it and go on enjoying it by trying to be open to the full extent of it, which is to exclude no one from the embrace of that love, especially not those who harm us, precisely because in harming us they betray themselves and reveal what a poverty they are themselves. If they were rich inside with the wealth of God, they would not behave in this way. For them to go on in their poverty will lead them to eternal misery unless they change, and that would be a far greater punishment than anything our devious little minds could cook up for their torture.
As we manage to find within ourselves the will and openness to trust the Blessed Trinity to know what is happening to us, to allow it for their kind purposes and in view of what will be not just good but actually the best for us and those we love; then we are securely on the path that Jesus walked and opened for us to follow behind Him. Trust in the Blessed Trinity and hope in the future they are bringing about in us are perfect dispositions for walking with the Lord, and these attitudes of spirit bring us peace and joy, even in the very heat of difficulty and trial, as contradictory as this seems to eyes open to see only as the world sees.
Of course, even with the best of dispositions we can expect a little more turbulence, human nature being as it is, as our memory resurfaces impressions, sensations, feelings, and thoughts.... Know Dear Reader that even though there may be moments when you feel yourself going backwards, that is, regressing, or succumbing again to intense feelings, it actually is not so. We are indeed very complex, intricately made, and functioning on many levels, and it takes time for the light shining from the face of Jesus to penetrate into the deepest parts of the most secluded rooms in the mansion or castle of our soul.
Each situation, relationship, memory, event, experience, feeling, can have such substance that it actually constitutes a room in the castle of our soul, and as such, is in need of the light and love of God so that we may surrender it to the lordship of Jesus. This is such a profound and patient, painstaking process that it is not something we can plan, let alone achieve, ourselves, but it is the beautiful work of the Holy Spirit in us. Our part, as each moment of the day unfolds, is simply to venture forward with trust in the Father's love and like a trusting child with its hand buried in the bigger hand of its Mom or Dad, allow the Holy Spirit to "touch" that part of our soul and bring it to life, order, harmony, peace, and fruitfulness.
To put it simply, as each moment of our day unfolds, pleasant or painful, it is that very moment that can become an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to continue his work in us, as we simply hand over that moment to his grace, and surrender it into the power of his touch in the love flowing from the Father to us through Jesus. It can happen through an inner dialogue as simple as, "Ouch! O Father, I thought this was settled, but I guess there's more in there that needs your love and the healing touch of your Holy Spirit. Take this memory, pain, anger, whatever; I give it to You. Glorify yourself in me and configure my heart, mind, and soul to Jesus, that I may walk on with Him and live like Him."
These are my words, but you see the gist... you too Reader can spontaneously enter into this kind of dialogue yourself with the Father, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit with words from your own heart, or at times even without words, as St. Paul mentions in Romans 8, where our soul prays simply through the groaning of labor pains within us... God be always with you and your family, and may the Blessed Trinity enjoy greater and greater freedom to glorify themselves - make themselves visible and attractive to others - in and through you.