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“Ask a Priest: When Is Anger Justified?”
Q: What are the criteria for justified anger? Is it justified when I am angry with my parish because they seem to be indignant about my questions on how the parish finances are handled? Or am I justifiably angry because it appears that everything in the parish is run by an elite few, leaving no room for others to use their gifts and talents unless they are under the control of the elite? -V.R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Justified anger should be a relatively rare phenomenon in most lives. There are times when anger can prompt us to stand up against injustice or to defend the weak, but these kinds of things probably don’t happen too often.
Much more common is the temptation to think we are justified in our anger – and to let that anger go way beyond the bounds of what is justifiable. In practice anger is a tool that quickly becomes a weapon.
In the case of the parish, it might be good to step back and examine your own reasons for your anger. It helps to see why your anger is springing up, whether it solves anything, or whether it is making things worse. A lot of times anger might be a sign of pride, a digging in of the heels.
A more positive question to ask in any tense situation is: What can I do to show charity in this moment? What is Jesus asking me to do? Is my concern based on love? Or is my rising tide of tension caused by annoyance?
But let’s come back to the motive of charity. Here you might ask yourself what you can do for the good of the parish, what you can do to build unity. When people sense that we care for them, that we are only looking for the good of everyone, that helps them see us in a good light.
In practice this means that we don’t need to have our point of view accepted at every turn. Better to propose something, listen to others’ alternatives, and ultimately let the proper authority decide things.
Decisions can sometimes be a majority vote or by one person (such as by a pastor). If peace reigns, then God tends to bless situations, even if objectively a better decision could have been chosen. In other words, process is sometimes more important than product.
Moreover, it is good to remember that the devil loves to stir people to disunity. He is a great parish-wrecker. So whenever you feel tensions rising, remember who is lurking in the background.
It would be good to pray for the virtue of meekness. Meekness is a virtue which moderates the passion of anger according to the dictates of reason, and calms the desire for revenge. (For more reading, see The Anger Workbook, by Les Carter and Frank Minirth.)
It might be good, too, to pray especially before parish meetings. Perhaps the whole parish committee could make a visit to the tabernacle beforehand and ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. I hope some of this helps bring peace to your parish.