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The flip side of anger

First slide

The priest’s homily caught my attention the second he referenced the “low-grade, boiling rage” that “burns” just beneath the surface. Recently, he shared, someone had sped up out of nowhere and tailgated him angrily. The same had happened to me the day before.


But then the priest whose homily podcast I was listening to — Father James Hudgins, pastor of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn — went far beyond the mere observation of tailgaters and what Ted Anthony of the Associated Press calls “our buckling emotional infrastructure.”


Father Hudgins explained that anger is complicated because it can be sinful — one of the seven deadly sins, after all; alternatively, “virtuous anger” as “a passion of the soul” can occur when justice is impeded. But then Father Hudgins went for the jugular.   


“Did you know that anger is the flip side of love?” he asked. “What is it that you love in your life? This is one of the most important questions you can ever ask. And ‘What makes you angry?’— it’s the very same thing.”


The story of our nation’s past seven months is undoubtedly one of anger and that low-grade, boiling rage. But Father Hudgins’ questions reveal the flip side to all this heaviness: Our daily life over the past seven months can also be read as a love story.


That’s right. Remember all of those times you lost your cool? When we took out our tension on those we love? All those times we fumed, sputtered or raged?


In each of these moments — many we wish we could do over — our hearts flashed their truest colors. In those moments, our hearts signaled — to ourselves and to those around us — that one of our loves was in jeopardy; that something or someone was infringing on the terra sancta of our loves.


Each of us, it turns out, has a 2020 “love story” that can be found on the flip side of our “anger story” throughout this year. If that sounds a bit complicated, you’re right. Love is such a vast universe — we may say, after all, that we love God, our spouse, country, justice, baseball or Doritos — that it begs the question: what order of love? Which type and caliber of love? A virtuous love that forcefully pushes back against genuine injustice — or a decidedly lesser and even sinful “love” that deploys anger as its pit bull to defend self-interest? 


To recount our own love story of 2020, then, is to probe the order or disorder of our loves. Depending on what or whom we love, and in what order, our 2020 love story is virtuous, debauched, or more likely, somewhere in between.


“We become better because we acquire better loves,” explained David Brooks on St. Augustine’s teaching on love. As, day by day, we allow the Lord to guide us in a kind of “love formation,” we gradually discover that “the old loves no longer thrill” and that we “love different things and are oriented in different directions.” Our loves are gradually “reordered” by God. 


“Living a just and holy life requires one to … love things, that is to say, in the right order,” wrote St. Augustine, so that “you do not love what is not to be loved” or “have a greater love for what should be loved less.” Living a just and holy life, in other words, will require that we first allow God to order our loves, and then that we protect those loves, even using morally excellent anger if needed.


Anger — and our ongoing journey through 2020 — has quite the backstory. The backstory is love — and the extent to which we have invited God to be a part of ordering our many loves.


If our anger is protecting the wrong loves, or even the right loves in the wrong order, we desperately need to seek forgiveness from God and surrender this anger. Jesus invites us to replace this anger with forgiveness, which Father Hudgins describes as meaning, “I do not hold this against you in what I say, in what I do and in what I think.”


“Don’t pretend it’s going to be easy,” Father Hudgins concluded. “Pope Benedict once said that when you forgive somebody else in this world, something inside of you has to die. And we have to do it again, again and again.”


Please God, we will someday recount 2020 not as a time of “low-grade, boiling rage,” but as a love story marked by forgiveness. Again, again and again.


Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Community (trinityhousecommunity.org).  










© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020