An invasion of my territory!
Lent: what do I do? Jesus in today’s third Sunday of Lent Gospel, “made a whip out of cords and drove them (Temple traders) all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:15-16). What do you call the action of Jesus from the scenario above? Some say it is a display of anger and some say it is Jesus’ advocacy for justice and the purification of sacred spaces/divine worship. For me not negating the previous viewpoints, it was the invasion of the psycho-theological territory of Jesus Christ or in simple terms, an invasion of the divine space of Jesus Christ.
As human beings, we often talk more of our geographical territory and we become angry when a person or group of people invade it uninvited and maybe start picking our valuables without our knowledge and permission. We also have a theological territory in which our beliefs, dogmas, faith, hope and love of God are sometimes questioned and even challenged and we get angry and anathematise those who criticize us. Again, we have an ideological territory and we become angry when a person or group of people invade or criticize our doctrines, beliefs, and convictions. And the most neglected territory is our psychological territory! Nevertheless, we struggle knowingly and/or unknowingly to protect it through our thoughtful, emotional and behavioural mechanisms that are evident sometimes in form of anger, quarrels, wars/fights, gossips, and so on and so forth. A kind of display of our survival cum security instincts, if you would like to designate it as such. A common denominator we can name as a key psycho-theological mechanism that usually dominates not only other territories mentioned above but particularly our psychological territory is ANGER. A lot have been said and written about the emotion-anger, yet we manifest it mildly or violently, if not on a daily basis! One of the most beautiful piece on anger is the title The Gift of Anger by Arun Gandhi the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. He asserts that “We should not be ashamed of anger. It’s a very good and a very powerful thing that motivates us. But what we need to be ashamed of is the way we abuse it.” — Mahatma Gandhi. Meaning, anger serves a purpose and we need it for our survival and security. Thus, Scripture teaches; “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph. 4:26-27). Therefore, it is said to be a sin, a capital sin in Catholic moral teaching when anger is abused and allowed to control and dominate our entire being. This being the case, we have to think of how to deal with our anger.
In the face of anger invading our psycho-theological territory as it happened to Jesus, how do we handle it? I would like to propose the formula of a famous influential spiritual guide and psychiatrist – M. Scott Peck. First, by seeing our anger as silly and immature, especially when it betrays our integrity and public image; when it robs us of our freedom and responsibility. Secondly, we need to sometimes see those who invade our different territories as merely making mistakes or better still, accidentally crashing into our different spaces. So, we let go and free ourselves. Here we quickly exercise our power of forgiveness. Thirdly, there are occasions when and where our territories are invaded and our mental factories as assisted by the centre of anger in the brain that says “Look there is serious invasion of my space.” At this point, we do not need to repress or suppress it. Summon the courage to say, “Listen, ‘I’ve got a real bone to pick with you.” Note that at this level too, it is not your right for your offender to apologise. If he/she does, then you are “lucky”; if not you have released emotional toxic and what may cause sickness in your psychological system and carry on with your precious life. If you do not do it, you will be the one to bear the pains and pay the price later (anxiety, depression, insomnia, restlessness and sadness). May that not be your portion! Moreover, you have no right whatsoever to curse, insult or malice the person. Do not forget that you usually offend people too and you always expect them to be kind to you. Hence, Jesus says “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12). Finally, we have the stage that you immediately blast a person that offended you. It does happen at times, nevertheless, we pray it is done prudently and responsibly. How? Here, instead of reacting and causing more squabbles, we respond to the situation by quickly recalling the previous steps and unifying them to maintain peace and harmony. We respond by saying what is on our mind in a friendly way and move on in our relationships, not giving in to malice and withdrawal. Let us emulate the example of Jesus. He finished cleansing the Temple and continued to interact with the Jews. He was sure of what He did. This is possible if we have integrated the previous levels of anger management or forgiveness formula. As spiritual beings on a human journey, we have to subscribe to the code of possibility for what is right and good and unsubscribe to the code of impossibility that says it is not possible to control what is wrong and bad, evil and wicked.
Action points and quotes from the Saints
*“There is an anger which is engendered of evil, and there is an anger engendered of good. Hastiness of temper is the cause of the evil, divine principle is the cause of the good…”
Pope St. Gregory the Great
*“When we have to reply to anyone who has insulted us, we should be careful to do it always with meekness. A soft answer extinguishes the fire of wrath. If we feel ourselves angry, it is better for us to be silent, because we should speak amiss; when we become tranquil, we shall see that all our words were culpable.”
Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
*“Many appear full of mildness and sweetness as long as everything goes their own way; but the moment any contradiction or adversity arises, they are in a flame, and begin to rage like a burning mountain. Such people as these are like red-hot coals hidden under ashes. This is not the mildness which Our Lord undertook to teach us in order to make us like unto Himself.”
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux
Fr. John-Mary Atep