Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
24th Sunday: Freedom From Anger
I have three images for you this week: one is a comic on the funny pages. One is a big expensive yacht. The third is the cross.
First of all the comic. Do you ever read Rose is a Rose? It’s great. I love it. It is also very faith-filled. It features Rose, her husband Jimbo, and their son, Pasquale, as well as Pasquale’s Guardian Angel. Rose is always happy and upbeat. Well, usually. Sometimes she has an alternate ego, Biker Girl, but usually she is a shy, happy Mom and wife. But there is one strip when Rose is not happy at all. And she was not behaving all that well. It begins with her pretty miserable. In the first panel she sits in a dungeon with a large ball and chain clamped to her leg. And she is angry. The anger is smoking off of her. There’s a dark cloud over her head. She’s really mad. In the second panel her expression changes and the dark cloud is replaced with the word “Sigh”. In the third panel the dungeon has been transformed into a rainbow with birds singing, and butterflies flapping. The ball and chain is gone, and Rose is dancing with a big smile on her face. In the fourth panel, Rose goes up to her husband, Jimbo, who is engrossed in his newspaper and like most men, thoroughly oblivious. She tells him, "Well, it wasn't easy, but I have decided to forgive you."
Who really benefitted from the forgiveness? Was it Jimbo? Or was it Rose? It was Rose whose anger had imprisoned her, whose anger had turned her world black. It was Rose whose upset was a ball and chain around her.
The second image is the big expensive yacht. I used to go on scuba diving trips to the Island of San Salvador, a small island of the Bahamas. There is just a little harbor on the island where the scuba boats leave from, but there are also three or four huge yachts there. The scuba boats were like little ants next to these ships. The yachts have everything. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Well, one year as we were leaving for a dive, one of the bigger yachts began pulling away from the peer. But there was a problem: someone forgot to untie one of the lines from the dock. The result was that the stern, the back of the ship, could not pull away until either the rope snapped or the stern got busted up. The rope won. The whole back of the ship, fiberglass, shattered. It cost that owner a pretty penny to fix his ship.
That ship had everything you could think of, but something was holding it back, something was causing it to destroy itself. That's what anger does to us. That's what the refusal to forgive does to us. It destroys us.
All of us have been done dirty by others. I have never met anyone who has not been offended by many people in many different ways. And we get angry. And we nurse that anger. We treasure that anger, maybe even to the extent of allowing it to become hatred. And do you know what happens?. Our anger, our hatred, our refusal to forgive holds us back.
“But, Father, you don't know what So and So did to me.”
You are right, I don't know. Nor do you know what another So and So did to me. But how can I progress in Christianity if I refuse to let go of the dock that my anger is tied to? And how can you be a Christian if you would rather walk around with the ball and chain of anger instead of run free to love?
"Well, I am going to take this anger to the grave,” an elderly lady once told me. That will really fix the person who hurt her, won't it? We cannot be good Christians and allow ourselves be tied down by our anger. Anger, the refusal to forgive, will consume us in the same way it consumed that servant who had been forgiven a great debt but who was still furious with another servant who owed him a mere trifling.
The third image I present to you is the cross. Last Thursday we celebrated the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The cross is a reminder of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. The cross is a reminder of the Gospel of the Lord. St. Paul tells Timothy, "If I do not preach the Gospel of Christ, then the cross loses its power." The Gospel of Christ demands forgiveness. Christianity is definitely not easy. It demands the sacrifice of that grudge that we actually enjoy harboring. The gospel of Christ demands forgiveness when we think we are justified in our anger. The gospel of Christ demands meaning what we pray when we say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." The gospel of Christ is not easy. It is out and out tough. But by putting our hatred to death, we give life to our love and more importantly, by putting our hatred to death, we give life to His Love.
Is there someone whom you or I hate? Was there a situation from many years ago that has had a negative impact on our lives? Or maybe it is a recent offense that is gnawing at you or at me. Or maybe you hate yourself. Maybe you did something terrible many years ago and have now decided that you cannot forgive yourself. The gospel for today says, "Let go. Let go of the battle stories. Let go of the hatred." This hatred has turned our lives into a prison. It has been the rope that held us back. We have suffered enough from the past. We are called today into the joy of the Lord. We need to offer up our anger to the Cross. We need to unite our upset to His upset. We need to join Jesus in sacrifice and sacrifice that so called justified grudge. The result of your sacrifice and my sacrifice is to live in the freedom of the daughters and sons of the Lord, free from our worst enemy, free from that which we do to ourselves.
Free to Love.