Righteous gentleness


We’re supposed to get angry. Anger is about justice. When we perceive something unjust, especially when we are personally involved, our natural (and good) response is anger. It compels us to set things right, to reestablish order and equity. The trouble is, in our fallen nature, we are often angry about the wrong things, or in the wrong measure. Wishing your car were armed with heat-seeking missiles – that you might repay the convertible that cut you off – is a bit unmeasured. Like all the passions, anger is good, but it needs the light of reason, so that its actions might also be good. The passions themselves are blind, and without reason’s vision, they invariably stumble and blunder, making a mess of things.

Lately, we are often provoked around our faith. Every day seems to bring some new affront to our Church and Creed. For the believer, for whom faith is a precious gift comparable even to life itself, such attacks inspire outrage and indignation. And rightly so. Misrepresentations, willful ignorance and even mockery of salvific truths are injustices calling out to heaven. The question is not whether such things should make us angry, but how we should respond.

In our second reading this weekend, St. Peter exhorts us, “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness...keeping your conscience clear.” The early disciples put up with plenty of opprobrium and ridicule. Christ and Christians were often the butt of the joke (as ancient graffiti attests). Yet, St. Peter counsels gentleness and reason whenever we offer a defense of our faith (our hope). Warning us to keep our conscience clear, the first pope teaches the sinfulness of unchecked anger. Free-wielding and unbridled, wrath is a fiery mace in the hands of a madman. It will always make a statement, but it will never build up the church.

St. Peter begins his admonition telling us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” As believers, our reason is informed by the facts of faith. The Jesus of our hearts enlightens our minds. One fact about this Jesus is that he died for us “while we were still sinners,” while we were in ignorance, even while we were his enemies (Rom 5:8,10). Should that not make us gentle toward “those who trespass against us”? Living among us, he “preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near,” (Eph 2:17). Should we not do the same? Attacks on our faith are gravely unjust. But we remember that Jesus was their first victim. This was his response, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”