Anger is an inordinate desire of revenge. Against this vice the Apostle strongly speaks: “Let all bitterness and anger, and indignation and clamor, and blasphemy be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ” (Eph. 4:31-32). And Our Savior Himself tells us: “Whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:22).
When this furious enemy assails you, let the following considerations help you overcome its movements: Consider, first, that even beasts live at peace with their kind. Elephants do not war upon one another; sheep live peaceably in one fold, and cattle go together in herds. We see the cranes taking by turns the place of guard at night. Storks, stags, dolphins, and other creatures do the same. Who does not know of the friendship between the ants and the bees? Even the wildest animals live united among themselves. One lion is rarely known to attack another, neither will a tiger devour one of his kind. Yes, even the infernal spirits, the first authors of all discord, are united in a common purpose – the perversion of mankind.
Man alone, for whom peace is most fitting, lives at enmity with his fellow men and indulges in implacable hatred. All animals are born with weapons for combat. The bull has horns; the boar has tusks; the bird has a beak and claws; the bee has a sting; and even the tiny fly or other insect has the power to bite. But man, destined to live at peace with his fellow creatures, comes into the world naked and unarmed. Reflect, then, how contrary to your rightful nature it is to seek to be revenged upon one of your kind, to return evil for evil, particularly by making use of weapons which nature has denied you.
In the second place, a thirst for vengeance is a vice which befits only savage beasts. You belie your origin, you disgrace your decent, when you indulge in ungovernable rage, worthy only of a wild animal. Aelian tells of a lion that had been wounded by an African in a mountain defile. A year after, when this man passed the same way in the suite of King Juba, the lion, recognizing him, rushed among the royal guards, and, before he could be restrained, fell upon his enemy and tore him to pieces. Such is the model of the angry, vindictive man. Instead of calming his fierce rage by the power of reason, that noble gift which he shares with the angels, he abandons himself to the blind impulse of passions which he possesses in common with the brutes.
If it be hard to subdue your anger, excited by an injury from one of your fellow creatures, consider how much more God has borne from you and how much He has endured for you. Were you not His enemy when He shed the last drop of His blood for you? And behold with what sweetness and patience He bears with your daily offenses against Him, and with what mercy and tenderness He receives you when you return to Him.
If anger urges that your enemy does not deserve forgiveness, ask yourself how far you have merited God’s pardon. Will you have God exercise only mercy toward you, when you pursue your neighbor with implacable hatred? And if it be true that your enemy does not deserve pardon from you, it will be equally true that you do not deserve pardon from God. Remember that the pardon which man has not merited for himself, Christ has superabundantly merited for him. For love of Him, therefore, forgive all who have offended you.
Be assured, moreover, that as long as hatred predominates in your heart you may make no offering which will be acceptable to God, who has said: “If thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift” (Matt. 5:23-24). Hence you can realize how grievous is the sin of enmity among men, since it causes an enmity between God and us, and destroys the merit of all our good works. “We gain no merit from good works,” says St. Gregory, “if we have not learned to endure injuries with patience.”
Consider also that the fellow creature whom you hate is either a just man or a sinner. If a just man, it is certainly a great misfortune to be the declared enemy of a friend of God. If a sinner, it is no less deplorable that you should undertake to punish the malice of another by plunging your own soul into sin. And if your neighbor in his turn seeks vengeance for the injury you inflict upon him, where will your enmities end? Will there be any peace on the earth?
The Apostle teaches us a more noble revenge when he tells us “not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil by good” (Rom. 12:21). That is, to triumph by our virtues over the vices of our brethren. In endeavoring to be revenged upon a fellow creature you are often disappointed and vanquished by anger itself. But if you overcome your passion, you gain a more glorious victory than he who conquers a city. Our noblest triumph is won by subduing ourselves, by subjecting our passions to the empire of reason.
Besides these, reflect on the fatal blindness into which this passion leads man. Under the cover of justice or right, how often does it drive him to excess which cause him a lifelong remorse!
The most efficacious, the sovereign remedy against this vice is to pluck from your heart inordinate love of self and of everything that pertains to you. Otherwise the slightest word or action directed against you or your interests will move you to anger. The more you are inclined to this vice the more persevering you should be in the practice of patience. Accustom yourself, as far as you can, calmly to face the contradictions and disappointments you are likely to encounter, and their effect upon you will thus be greatly diminished.
Make a firm resolution never to speak or act under the influence of anger, nor to heed any suggestions, however plausible, which your heart may urge at such moments. Never act until your anger has subsided, or until you have once or twice repeated the Our Father or some other prayer. Plutarch tells of a wise man who, on taking leave of a monarch, advised him never to speak or act in anger, but to wait until he had repeated to himself the letters of the alphabet. Learn a lesson from this, and avoid the evil consequences of acting from the impulse of anger.