It being Lent and all, I’ve a confession to make: I struggle with anger. Now, I know few things can be drearier than a writer ‘sharing’ his ‘feelings’; however, I suspect I’m not alone in this struggle. On one hand, it is true there are occasions in the spiritual life when a righteous anger is a virtual requirement out of love for divine justice. Think of Our Lord’s reproach to the Pharisees as “white sepulchers” (Mt 23:27). As St. John Chrysostom notes:
…the person who does not become irate when he has cause to be, sins. For an unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices: it fosters negligence, and stimulates not only the wicked, but above all the good, to do wrong.
Yet, as St. Francis de Sales warns, “There was never an angry man who thought his anger unjust”. And, finally, from St. Augustine: “Anger is the weed, hatred is the tree.” You can see the problem, here, this tension between loving and acknowledging both God’s mercy and justice while at the same time being aware of my own inclination toward the sort of self-justification and hatred of which the saints warn. This explains why I’ve become such good friends with St. Jerome. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” and all. We are to “turn the other cheek.” We will be forgiven to the extent we forgive those who trespass against us. We are to bless those who hate and persecute us. How clear and simple, how easy, these injunctions seem—until, that is, someone truly trespasses against us and we are confronted by the fact we are truly hated.
Consider, as an example of this tension, a story in the news.
It was reported recently that the two highly-placed FBI officials—Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—at the heart of the ongoing Washington scandal over potential illegal surveillance of the 2016 Trump campaign tweeted last year that they “truly hate” the marchers who participate in January’s March for Life. After a tweet from Strzok in which he uses vulgarity to describe the marchers, Page responds with the observation: “I truly hate these people. No support for the woman who actually has to spend the rest of her life rearing this child, but we care about ‘life.’ As****es.” (Jan. 22, 2016).
Many of us have family and friends who attended the March; three of my children were in attendance at the two most recent Marches. All of us identify with and seek to build the Culture of Life to which the March is dedicated; for us, the March is a sign of hope—hope for a future in which all life is not just protected but cherished. So, it’s startling to discover that two highly placed (and highly paid) officials at the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency “truly hate” that which we truly love. And it’s understandable that a certain anger, even a justifiable anger, might arise in the soul, an anger which can block our desire to answer those aforementioned biblical calls to forgive, pray, and turn the other cheek. The temper rises, a desire to strike back wars against the knowledge of Our Lord’s call not just to tolerate, but to actually to love our enemy. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
All of this is understandable, that is, until one goes and actually searches the 400 or so text messages for the context of the remarks with a word search on the word, “hate.” Do this, and something becomes quickly apparent: pro-lifers aren’t the only people Strzok and Page “hate”. Turns out that just a partial list of the people and things they hate include Donald Trump and his supporters, whom they can “smell” when they go to Walmart; the Department of Justice; the State of Texas; “hillbillies” in Northern Virginia; Congress; numerous people with whom they work; their work, itself; “academics;” the U.N.; international organizations in general; and “Romanians” who they believe “have the crookedness of the Russians with the entitledness (sic) of the Italians.” Peter Strzok summed of the couple’s attitude succinctly when, in one text to his paramour describing a lunch he had had with someone else, he stated, “We both hate everyone and everything.”
And as for what they love? It’s a much shorter list. They love former FBI Director James Comey, a couple of their co-workers, and “the British” (apparently for their dry sense of humor), and the city of San Francisco. And, apparently, their jobs and the U.N.—two things they also “hate”. Guess it depends on the day. Virtually defying my attempt to categorize as either love or hate, one of them poignantly notes, “[I] love me some hating on.”
Read the texts and whatever anger may be rising in your soul rapidly dissipates. You will find it easier to forgive, feel compelled to pray and bless, and find yourself almost involuntarily turning your cheek. One is overwhelmed by the sheer emptiness of Strzok and Page’s communications. Missing is anything even resembling a sense of joy. Their concerns (apart from those they hate) revolve almost solely around what job they may get next, or what so-and-so thinks, or may have said about them. Occasionally, a glimmer of light tries to shine through. One of them mentions that maybe they shouldn’t be “hating on” things so much. In a poignant moment, one of them even mentions noticing “nature sounds” and birds chirping, and found it “unusual”.
But these moments of conscience coming from within and without are quickly swept away in the torrent of self-exultation. As St. Augustine noted, “The punishment of every disordered mind is its own disorder.”
They hate us because they first hated Him. The love, joy, and delight Jesus brings to our souls and which is reflected on the faces of those bundled marchers who seek after His life, are abhorrent to those who have turned inward on themselves, who have become “white sepulchers”.
Right before Jesus pointed out that “the flesh is willing, but the spirit is weak,” he cautioned the Apostles to “Watch and pray” lest they fall into temptation. Struggling with anger, I have a tendency to note the “Pray” part while missing the “Watch” part. Christ calls us to look, to see, to go deeper. To watch. It is only by doing so that we can cultivate that virtue—Christian meekness—necessary to check anger, to prevent it from becoming the ‘tree of hate’ cited by Augustine, and to attain the righteousness necessary to persevere in hope. That is the difficult but necessary path to changing a culture that is, as the Strzok-Page texts indicate, is coming more and more to “truly hate” us.