By Msgr. Francis X. Meehan
Recently, a friend wrote to me about how there seems to be so much anger in the atmosphere today. He holds a position very much in the public eye. “Never,” he remarked, “in all my years have I received e-mails and phone calls with such a consistent tone of anger – not only on politics, but on just about anything!”
His complaint reflects a common experience today. The anger quotient is up. It occurs in our politics, in our churches; it fills our airwaves, our blogs, our e-mails. So many angry voices, so many angry words – exaggerated words, sound-byte words, labeling words, accusatory words! A lack of intellectual integrity frames our arguments; spin dominates and nuance is omitted – sometimes with seeming deliberateness!
One searches for a reason. Is it our excessive busyness? Is it the media’s fault, the desperate cultivation of more listeners and watchers? Is it the fear and anxiety that stems from a changing culture? Is it that people are more and more out of control, – a time of less faith, less tenderness, less respect?
Anger comes from so many sources – life-long resentments that darken our countenances, or just the plain competitiveness of our times. Anger spoils PTA meetings, family gatherings, dinner tables, talk shows, Little League games and major league games.
Anger comes in defense of the best causes. Pro-life leaders have told me how embarrassed they are at the way some of the people express themselves – how they, as leaders, keep trying to instill a deep sense of non-violence. There is anger on the left and on the right, from liberals and conservatives.
Yet surely, the angry person, when challenged, can point to Jesus: Did Jesus not spill the coins of the money-changers and overturn their tables? Others appeal to the need for the prophetic word in our time.
Of course, there is a righteous anger. Prophetic words are desperately needed. And yet, illusion comes easy here. Humility is not always in vogue. Most of us are not Jesus; nor is our prophetic courage reliably pure. As one wag put it, “Every prophet is a pain-in-the-neck, but not every pain-in-the-neck is a prophet!”
An adviser to young and older priests once put it this way: “We have to avoid being too self-consciously the prophet, of using confrontational techniques or attitudes that fulfills hidden needs of our own psyche. One runs into modern day zealots even in the best social movements. They usually are very conscientious people, but often embittered with layers of hidden hostility. Only the love of God poured forth in our hearts can really change people. That is a truth of all truths, without which social zeal can become demonic.”
Jesus once warned us: “The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me” (John 16, 2).
The next time we go to speak or write an angry word – and this exhortation applies to this writer for sure – let us first pass through the purifying fire of Jesus’ rigorous discernment of spirits: Namely, the call to that deep non-violent knowing of the Father and of Jesus and to a love poured forth in our hearts for both enemies and friends.
Msgr. Meehan is a former teacher and pastor who now helps in spiritual direction for seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.