Sacred Heart

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Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Fr. Paul Ward

Sunday, September 11, 2016
24th Sunday in Ord. Time, Cycle C


Social Doctrine (5/7):

Wrath (Anger), and a Reflection on Peace



   Today we continue our meditations on Church Social Doctrines. For seven Sundays this fall, we are examining these doctrines, using the seven capital sins as our outline. In seven homilies, therefore, we see first something of the capital sin in question; second, how it produces manifestations and consequences in the public square; and third, what the Church teaches to arrest the personal and social evils under study. The purpose of these seven meditations is to inform the Catholic conscience somewhat as the elections approach, and so to assist each Catholic to not sin when they vote; and also to provide, simultaneously, some fruit for one’s own personal, spiritual progress.

   We have examined already those sins of greed, laziness, pride and envy. Today we move on to another of the capital sins, wrath. We see wrath today expressed in the older brother of the prodigal son, for he was angry, unwilling to forgive in obstinate in his spirit of division. But we also think of wrath especially this day, when we remember the violence committed on this date in 2001, when many thousands were killed in the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon and in a fourth downed plane in Pennsylvania. The topic of anger will lead us to discuss the topic of war.

   What is the capital sin of wrath?
[1] It is often called, in more modern texts, the capital sin of anger. Lest we get confused, let us distinguish that there are two ways of speaking of anger. There is the feeling of anger, and there is the sin of anger. Anger as a sin is always a feeling; but anger as a feeling is not always a sin. We speak of this passion, this strong emotional response of the soul, as that which rejects evil, always with a view for vengeance. Anger understood this way can be sinful or not sinful, for not all vengeance is sinful. If one seeks vengeance in the proper order of justice, for example, to put a bank robber behind bars, or to rejoice for God’s eternal justice over one who dies in unrepentant mortal sin, is to stay within the boundaries of a vengeance that is properly ordered according to right reason, and is no sin. And if you are angry at sin, and declare war on sin in your own life and within your home, this is praiseworthy.

   Anger, as this feeling that stirs one to seek vengeance, however, is probably more often than a sin. It is a sin, first, when one desires vengeance over something small or petty, or when it is not due at all. Second, one can sin with anger imposing a vengeance outside what the law prescribes – here we speak natural law, civil law or God’s law. For example, your neighbor steals your lawn mower, so you take it upon yourself to burn his house down. That is sinful. Third, one sins with anger when he wishes to do away with the sinner instead of the sin. This happens when, in wrath, one hates his enemy, wishes to destroy his enemy, rejoices over his downfall, refuses to forgive, or even attacks or kills his enemy. These are all sinful.

   What are some manifestations of anger in our social lives? One can site many examples of families wherein the siblings are fighting – and no, it does not take two for this kind of fight, it takes one very unjust person. There can be petty revenges in the workplace, and from anger one moves to other sins, like a man slandering a coworker so that the man, and not the coworker, can keep his job or obtain a promotion. There can be many other various forms of anger – fights, unforgiveness, road rage, outbursts, intimidation or violence, yelling and screaming at each other, sabotaging one another, broken homes and so much more.

   As important as all these are, the worst manifestation of anger, which goes more importantly to the point of Catholic social teaching, is war. The Church’s general position is that of “making peace.”
[2] Some confuse this with pacifism. Sometimes peace needs to be made with force; and in these cases we speak of the “just war.” It is hard today to speak of the just war, first because most of our experience is the political wars created by corrupt politicians; second, because the nature of weaponry today is such that much of it is directed to mass destruction: atomic weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons and regular artillery capable of massive demolition. While neither natural law nor Church teaching considers the dirty job of a soldier sinful, when he takes the life of an enemy soldier, weapons of mass destruction carry with them nearly a guarantee of killing the lives of “innocent” civilians – “innocent” not that they are sinless, or crimeless, but “innocent” here meaning not engaging in combat.

   This has caused, therefore, mixed messages about the Church’s teachings about war. For there is a doctrine of the just war, but more recently, the last few decades especially, the Church has spoken very strongly against war, making no distinction between just war or unjust war. The well informed Catholic understands that these more recent, categorial condemnations of war refer to unjust war. The teachings of just war theory go untouched.

   For a war to be just, the Church speaks of a “legitimate defense by military force” (CCC 2309). See, we speak of a defensive war here. This is one of the places where the Church parts ways from the pacifist, who will not go to war even in case of defense. Defense is sometimes a duty of charity towards your family and your people, and to not defend would be sinful cowardice; let us see the pacifist to be part peace lover and part coward.

   The criteria of a just ware are four: first, the damage inflicted by the aggressor must be lasting, grave and certain. Second, all other means used to attempt to end the inflicted damage have failed. For “all other means,” one is to understand “all reasonable means,” all that those involved can think of in the time allotted to them to solve the conflict; for man has not the mind of God, and cannot see all the infinity of hypothetical possibilities. Third, the evils produced by war must not be greater than the evils already being endured – and here again the use of weapons of mass destruction are condemned. And fourth, there must be serious prospects of victory.
[3] The Church also says that it is not up to the hierarchy of the Church to determine when these criteria are in effect; that depends on those who govern civil society. Therefore, if a deacon, priest, bishop or even Pope support or condemn a specific military conflict, one may differ from the judgment of that member of the hierarchy and possibly be still a good Catholic. What one cannot dissent from is the list of principles of what just war is.

   The solution to all of this starts with the person. Many saints have written about anger in the context of one’s personal interior life; for example, Pope St. Gregory the Great speaks about how, by anger, the angry man loses wisdom, righteousness, kind social ife, harmony, truthfulness and even the Holy Spirit himself; maybe he will even lose his life in a moment of fury.
[4] He recommends that one brace himself against anger by vigilance and preparedness for contrary things, people and words. He also recommends that humility which, before condemning transgressions of others, stops to condemn oneself for his own transgressions more strongly.

   But in the Church’s social teachings speaks very clearly about the State’s obligations to take the matter with grave reflection and responsibility, and to defend one’s people especially the most innocent – I might add, especially the unborn. But the Church wishes to make peace, and peace is made where justice prevails. When one nation is afflicted by another, either by theft of a natural resource like water, forestry, livestock or oil; or by economic sanctions which never hurt those who govern but only legitimate businesses and the average guy on the street; or by brutal punishments of entire nations as more or less happened after the first world war; or by terrorism, racial cleansing, religious or ethnic persecutions, and by other such things, situations of injustice arise that infuriate people and inspire them to band together and fight back in dreadful ways – war.

   Politicians, worse still, wage war to gain control of gold mines, or manage the oil industry, or to reduce nations to third-world status for purposes of control, or other such. Sometimes they cause wars abroad to distract their populace from problems at home. These and other wars are extremely evil, and such persons will answer for their wars, and all the death, tears and misery they cause, when they stand before the judgment seat of God.

   An excellent means, furthermore, to bring up peace, not only in the international community but also within the homes, schools, business places, and elsewhere, is the good of forgiveness. Forgiveness breaks the cycle of revenge. When men want revenge on each other, they go back and forth escalating the payback… until one says, “Here I stop; I forgive, and ask for forgiveness.” When situations of injustice are solved, still forgiveness is needed to rebuild a society of justice and peace.

   Catholics should strive for peace, in their interior lives, in their parishes, in their volunteer groups, in their homes and everywhere they go. They should also demand that their political representatives observe the Church’s teachings regarding the just war, and the prudent procuring of peace among peoples and nations. May the Lord, through Mary’s intercession, extinguish sinful anger, and bless us with peace – spiritual peace and public peace – now and for all our days. Amen.


[1] Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo, 12, a. 1, c.

[2] Compendium of Social Doctrine, whole chapter on war, esp. nn. 497 ff.

[3] CCC 2309.

[4] Cf. Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob, book 5, 78-82.










Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Librevia Editrice Vaticana








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