Do you have a fierce temper? If so, you’re in good company: some of the saints were known for this — a characteristic that, with God’s help, they overcame. The Gospels tell us that Sts. James and John were called the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) — perhaps because of their impetuous nature, as when they wanted Jesus to call down fire from Heaven to destroy an inhospitable town (Luke 9:51-56). Other saints known for expressing anger include St. Basil the Great, whose hot-blooded temperament made it difficult for him to exercise tact in his dealings with others.
A more contemporary example is the nineteenth-century French religious brother St. Benildus, who once remarked of his difficulties as a teacher, “I imagine that the angels themselves, if they came down as schoolmasters, would find it hard to control their anger.”
Some saints who are known to us for their gentle nature — notably the great bishop St. Francis de Sales and the holy French priest St. Vincent de Paul — had to work very hard to overcome their tendency toward anger and contentiousness. St. Vincent said that, without the grace of God, he would have been “hard and repulsive, rough and cross,” and St. Francis once claimed that it took him more than twenty years to learn to control his temper.
In the fourteenth century, Bl. John Colombini was a rather greedy merchant, particularly known for his bad temper. He flew into a rage one day because dinner wasn’t ready when he arrived home. Hoping to shame him into better behavior, his wife handed him a book about the saints. John threw the book onto the floor, but then — ashamed of his temper — he picked it up and began to read. He became so engrossed in reading about the saints that he forgot his dinner; indeed, he was completely converted by the experience. He subsequently gave away most of his wealth, turned his home into a hospital, and personally cared for a suffering leper. When his wife urged him to be prudent in his charities, John —who was no longer easily offended by rebukes — gently reminded her that she was the one who had hoped for his conversion (to which she is supposed to have responded, “I prayed for rain, but this is a flood”).
Although the Lord probably doesn’t expect such unusual efforts from us, He does want us to control our anger, and He gives us opportunities to do this— especially in daily life: bearing patiently with others’ annoying habits, correcting others’ mistakes with kindness and courtesy, refraining from blaring the horn when someone cuts us off in traffic, refusing to yield to the temptation to judge others’ motives rashly.
When we have to speak to someone with whom we’re angry, we should first pray for the Lord’s guidance and help. Asking the Holy Spirit to give us the right words can help defuse a potentially explosive situation.
Similarly, says St. Alphonsus Liguori, “When it happens that we commit some fault, we must also be gentle with ourselves. Getting at ourselves after doing something wrong is not humility but a subtle form of pride. . . . To be angry at ourselves after the commission of a fault is a greater fault than the one just committed, and it will lead to many others.” Thus, God wants us to control our tempers — even when we ourselves are their target. His healing mercy and peace are offered to everyone, but we’ll miss out on them if we allow our anger to get in the way.
Something You Might Try
☩ St. Francis de Sales advises that, to avoid the sin of anger, you must quickly ask God to give peace to your heart when you’re angered and then turn your thoughts to something else. Don’t discuss the matter at hand, or make decisions, or correct another person while you’re angry. When a person angers you, St. Francis advises, consider the person’s good qualities, rather than the words or actions you find objectionable.
☩ It’s also helpful to recall, when you’re in a peaceful mood, a recent situation when you lost your temper. Ask yourself, “Was my anger justified? How will I respond to this situation in the future?” You can even “practice” responding properly by pretending this situation is repeating itself; by letting yourself feel angry when you’re alone, you can rehearse possible responses and evaluate which ones might help you.
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Fr. Joseph M. Esper – (catholicexchange.com)