Catholic at Home

Responding to anger with faith

By Jennifer Antkowiak

As I write this, our diocesan communications team is putting the finishing touches on the next issue of Pittsburgh Catholic magazine. In preparing the stories, which are focused on Lent and the sacrament of marriage, we’ve marveled at the fact that this will be the third Lenten season amid COVID-19 concerns.

The illness, fear, confusion, death, and division brought about by the pandemic test our faith. The prolonged tension has led to increases in depression and anxiety, as well as to feelings of anger. Have you felt that in yourself or seen it in people you know?  I have.

I’ve seen it on social media, even on our own diocesan pages. We’ve heard anger in calls and emails from people who are upset about events in our world, and within our diocese. I’ve seen this even from people who are normally calm.  There’s a hostile edge—an anger and bitterness that is hard to hear.

When we hear it, how should we respond? How can we help bring the peace and love of Jesus?

As disciples of Jesus, we know that He wants us to love others as He loves us.  He told us that there is a direct link between how we treat others and the spiritual gifts we receive from Him:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Through my previous work with wellness and supporting family caregivers in difficult times, I did a lot of research on anger. The information I learned has been running through my mind a lot lately as I witness negativity. Understanding more about how anger impacts us can motivate us to evaluate and change our behavior.

Anger is a distraction that keeps us from confronting the cause of our pain. Psychologists say that if someone seems angry most of the time, something deeper and unresolved is usually causing that anger.  All of us have been dealing with stress related to health, lifestyle and financial changes. When we feel our anger bubbling up or see it in others, it’s a good time to investigate how we’re dealing with stress. We should try to open up those kinds of conversations with others, too.

Feelings of anger act as a barrier between us and those we love. Holding on to those feelings can ruin relationships. We can ask Jesus to help us soften our hearts, to forgive, and to listen, so that we may be able to seek reconciliation.

Anger can trigger us—repeatedly.  Are there topics that set you off immediately? Maybe certain people? Remaining aware of those triggers can help us to avoid them, or to think through a good coping strategy.

Anger has a ripple effect. It causes overthinking, worry, and frustration.  All of that can make us feel like there’s a constant dark cloud hanging over our day.  We can pray and ask Jesus to give us the strength to resolve our anger so that we can once again see the light.  That may require an uncomfortable conversation with someone or removing yourself from a situation temporarily or permanently.

Anger, at its core, is a physical sign that we’re not trusting God. Evil forces rejoice when we allow anger to control us.  When we feel angry, it may seem as though God is far away, but He’s not.  We can call on Him to guide us through our negativity. Without Him to bring us strength and hope, anger puts us on a destructive path.

No matter how we’ve reacted or responded to anger in the past, every moment offers us a chance to start over. Here’s a prayer to help us trust in God and respond in faith:

Dear Jesus, my heart is heavy with anger I carry in myself, and with anger I feel from others. Please help me to trust in you and to lean into your strength.  Help me to refrain from snap judgements and comments, and to be gentle with myself and others.  Help me to listen to and respect others even if I don’t agree with them. Please work through me to bring kindness, peace, and comfort to those around me.  Allow me to feel your love and your presence in my life.  Amen.