A fiery character trained in virtue can bring about great things for Christ's kingdom.
Though anger can easily become a passion that consumes us, it is not inherently evil. As the Catechism explains, “The passions are natural components of the human psyche.” Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Lack of the passion of anger is also a vice,” and quoted a document often attributed to St. John Chrysostom that said, “He sins who does not become angry when he has cause.”
There is certainly much to be justly angry about in our world, and Christians must respond to evil and injustice with a holy anger that spurs us on to prayer and action. We must resist the temptation to become so accustomed to evil that we cease to be outraged; conversely, we must never allow even righteous anger to consume us.
As we seek to respond righteously to evil, saints who weren’t afraid to shout in defense of justice can accompany and intercede for us.
St. Eulalia of Mérida (292-304) was a sweet 12-year-old consecrated virgin who was outraged by the persecution of Christians. Though her parents tried to keep her from confronting the officials involved in the persecution, Eulalia sneaked out and ran to the city, where she berated the judge and his soldiers for their idolatry and for trying to lead Christians astray, finally crying out, “Miserable men! Under my feet I will trample your gods!” She proceeded to spit in the judge’s face and kick over his idols and was martyred for her outburst.
St. Nicholas (270-343) wasn’t disinclined to express righteous anger, and not only in the (perhaps apocryphal) assault on the heretic Arius at Nicaea. Once (upon returning from a trip) he was told that three men had been sentenced to death. Nicholas ran through the city, reaching the condemned men just in time to grab the sword from the executioner’s hands and free them before storming across town to berate the governor, who had condemned the men in exchange for a bribe. “Sacrilegious blood-shedder!” he cried. “I will not spare or forgive you!” When the governor repented and pardoned the men, Bishop Nicholas rejoiced to see that his just anger had borne fruit and pardoned the governor in turn.
St. Columba Ki Hyo-im (1814-1839) was a Korean vowed virgin. Arrested for her faith alongside her sister St. Agnes Kim Hyo-ju, she was stripped naked, tortured, and thrown into a cell filled with the worst of the male prisoners. When they were finally brought before a judge and condemned to death, Columba described the molestation they had endured with barely concealed fury. “Whether she is the daughter of a noble or a commoner,” she said, “the chastity of a young woman has the right to be respected. If you want to kill me according to the law of the country, I will willingly accept the punishment. However I do not think it is right to have to suffer insults that are not part of the law and I object to them.” The judge ordered those responsible punished, but Columba and Agnes were martyred just the same.
Bl. Francisco de Paula Victor (1827-1905) was the first Black Brazilian priest. Though he responded with meekness to the racism he endured throughout his life, as an enslaved child, a seminarian, and even a priest, his willingness to turn the other cheek extended only to abuse of himself, not of others. Once, a mob of armed men came to town intent on burning down the home of an abolitionist who was housing escaped slaves. Fr. Victor stood at the entrance to the town holding up a crucifix to show these men the bloodied face of their Savior who had become a slave for them. “Come in!” he shouted. “Come in! But come over the corpse of your priest.” They retreated and many lives were saved that night.
Bl. Emilian Kovch (1884-1944) was a Ukrainian Catholic priest, husband, and father, who repeatedly risked his life to preach against prejudice and anti-Semitism. On one occasion, Nazi troops had chased some local Jews into a synagogue and were throwing firebombs inside. Without regard for his own safety, Fr. Kovch raced to the synagogue, blocked the doors, and angrily ordered the soldiers to go away. To everyone’s shock, they did just that! Having stared down a mob of Nazis, Fr. Kovch ran into the synagogue to save the people burning within. Further efforts to protect Jews from the Nazis led to his arrest and death in a concentration camp.
Servant of God Dorothy Day (1897-1980) had a strong temper. Rather than repress it, though, she chose to direct that anger against injustice and poverty and nuclear proliferation. A man who knew her once said, “She’s been in my house a number of times and she was always angry. Saints aren’t angry… ” He seems not to have understood the power that anger can have when handed over in service to the Lord. And while Day continued to fight her temper (saying to one person who asked her to hold her temper, “I hold more temper in one minute than you will in a lifetime”), she found that God used her temper to great effect in her work as foundress of the Catholic Worker Movement.
Can anger be righteous?