If you read anything by St. Francis de Sales, you come away with the impression that he was patience incarnate. He talks endlessly about the wonderful benefits of meekness, gentleness, and kindness—especially to those who deserve it least.
Yet, many don’t realize that this great saint struggled for most of his life with a fiery temper and an intense impatience. By his own admission, it took him nearly 20 years to overcome these tendencies. It is a testament to his fierce battle against self that he is known and remembered for the exact opposite virtues of patience and gentleness, rather than those that came easily to his nature.
At one point or another, we have likely all had moments where we feel that flash of blinding rage come on. We lose control in these moments, saying and doing things that we later regret. I know this has happened to me, anyway, and to be completely frank, temper is something I struggle with.
Anger doesn’t have to manifest itself only in moments of passion however; it can also come in the form of a latent bitterness and unforgiveness over past wrongs that festers for many years. Anger can be explosive, or it can also be silently passive-aggressive.
But despite the power of angry emotions, we are not helpless against them. The saints and masters of the spiritual life have left us a wealth of advice on conquering our passions, including temper, and they demonstrate by their lives that even the most intense feelings of anger can and must be overcome.
There’s one little book in particular that is helpful for those who struggle with anger, whether it be a quick temper or seething resentment: Overcoming Sinful Anger by Father T.G. Morrow. In this short, compact little book, Fr. Morrow addresses the causes of anger and deftly synthesizes the remedies. His style is accessible as it is succinct, and illustrative stories are sprinkled throughout. His advice is applicable to everyone, whether one struggles with a fierce temper or not.
The Gospel and Relationships
I recommend Fr. Morrow’s work primarily because it acknowledges that the Gospel is ultimately a matter of relationships, namely our relationship to both God and our neighbor. If our relationship with our neighbor is damaged, our relationship with God is also damaged. Jesus put this fact plainly in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:-23-24).
In other words, reconciliation with our neighbor must always precede a right relationship with God. The only conditional petition in the Lord’s prayer is about right relationships—“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Our Lord makes it clear that if we do not forgive others, we shouldn’t expect forgiveness ourselves: “If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
Big Sins, Little Sins
When we think of grave sins, we too often think only of things like adultery or cold-blooded murder. If we don’t do these things, we think we are alright spiritually. And yet Jesus makes it quite clear that, while it is more subtle, anger is a form of murder and that it has grave consequences to our souls (see Matt. 5:22). St. Paul, too, mentions anger alongside adultery in his list of sins that will keep people out of heaven (see Gal. 5:20-21).
In short, anger is not something we can tolerate in our lives, for it is deadly to our souls. As Fr. Morrow writes:
For the real Christian, it’s not where we’re from that counts the most, but where we would like to go one day. Explosive anger is not something you want to have with you when you leave this planet. It will profoundly dampen your ability to enter the Kingdom.
If you have a problem with exploding anger and you want to be a Christian, you absolutely must work hard to overcome it. You cannot simply say, “Well, that’s me,” if you want to be friends with the Lord.
Fr. Morrow’s little book, Overcoming Sinful Anger, is an excellent resource in the battle against anger. Whether your explode in anger several times a day or struggle with forgiving past hurts, this book is sure to have advice for you that is as practical as it is simple. I highly recommend it.
It is often said that admitting you have a problem is the first step to resolving it. If we are humble enough to admit we struggle with anger, we can certainly overcome it by God’s grace. Like any growth in the spiritual life, extinguishing the fires of anger will take time and determination, but the struggle will be worth it.