by Rev. Fr. George C Mathew
This week, I want to share with you about anger and forgiveness. Anger is listed as one of the deadly sins. St. John Climacus states, "Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you. Irascibility is an untimely flaring up of the heart. Bitterness is a stirring of the soul's capacity for displeasure. Anger is...a disfigurement of the soul."
What does psychology teach about anger and the right to be angry? This was interesting to me. One group of researchers found the theme of anger was "significant intrusion." In other words, the angry individual perceives someone has intruded on them or on someone or something they love and possess and considers that to be an extension of himself. The significance is so great to them that they feel they have a "right" to be angry. The researchers state, "This is an exalted state of self-importance by which people define themselves, which gives them this 'right.' It reveals an underlying postulate of self-definition that allows all anger to be justified."
In addition, others have found that anger can be based on cognitive distortions, such as:
"Selective focusing" - disregarding the nice things a person has done while centering on an error(s) they made;
"Mind-reading" - concluding, without proof, the reason for someone's improper action was to "get at" the angry person and/or was directed to the person;
"Fortune telling" - predicting only unseemly things will happen to you and this will continue in the future; and
"Catastrophizing" - evaluating the errors, improper actions and unseemly behaviors of others as more that 100% bad.
Researchers conclude that these distortions enable a person to create ongoing irrational mental scenarios in their mind continue to fuel and perpetuate anger.
From a spiritual standpoint, the Church Fathers teach that anger is a result of pride. St. John Climacus states,
"Pride is a denial of God, an invention of the devil, contempt for men. ... the source of anger, the gateway of hypocrisy."
The cure is simply humility, and the ultimate model of humility is Christ Himself. St. Paul said,
"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross"
As St. John further states, "Pride makes us forget our sins...the remembrance of them leads to humility."
St. Isaac the Syrian concludes that the person who has attained to knowledge of his own weakness has reached the "summit of humility."
Real forgiveness then is to be reconciled with Christ and all mankind.
Christ reminds us,
"But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift"
(St. Matt 5:22-26).
This requires a mind filled with humility and love.
When someone offends God or us, they must repent. God, and we in imitation of Christ, should embrace the repentant sinner with God's own love, in order to forgive him. We have to pray that we or anyone who has offended us or God, be reconciled to God and to us through His Church. There has to be sincere contrition of heart, and a real determination to make amends and to have a fundamental change of mind and heart so as not to offend again. Otherwise, our spirituality has no truth and is meaningless. Making amends often takes the form of restarting friendly communication; doing something nice that may be unexpected by the other; offering to help on a problem; telling a humorous story; or even resuming a previously halted activity. Real forgiveness moves past the road block and keeps moving forward.
It is important to note that forgiveness does not mean we necessarily forget, excuse, condone or demand some payback. If we can, that is ideal. Forgiveness does not mean we have "'warm and fuzzy" feelings toward someone who may have offended us. It also does not mean we automatically trust anyone to act appropriately. Trust is a process and has to be earned in time by experience. And, if what was done affects the community, it may take time to be fully re-established in the community in the same status (occupation, style of life, etc.). But, if the person is repentant, we have to give the person the benefit of the doubt and be willing to trust. Our Lord reminds in the Gospels about turning the other cheek and forgiving not just 7 times as the Law required (seven is a number representing completion), but 7 x 7 x 7 x 7 ... 70 times. That means you keep doing it in as much as God forgives us of our sins and shortcomings.
The Church teaches we are all sick because of sin. We come to Church and to Christ to be healed. As part of our therapy and recovery plan, then, we are called and expected by God to love and "forgive those who trespass again us" if we too want to be forgiven. If we are angry with another (for whatever reason), let us be mature and tender-hearted and forgive and be willing to forgive. St. Ephraim the Syrian reminds us, "If your brother is angry with you, then the Lord is also angry with you. And if you have made peace with your brother below, then you have made peace also with the Lord on high. If you receive your brother, then you also receive your Lord." May the Holy Spirit grant us the gift of humility and real love to forgive and to be forgiven.
Forgive and Forget
Jesus was a man of intense action. He was active in defending the innocence of others. He preached to turn the other cheek when we are attacked individually. He taught to forgive your enemies.
I know God has forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself
You start believing the Lord. If He says your sins are gone, that they're underneath the blood of Christ and buried in the deepest sea and separated from you as far as the east is from the west, that you accept that they are gone. Forgive yourself, put the sin behind you, and get on with your life.
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