I was going through a, um, phase, and I couldn’t stop getting mad about stuff. It was around Election time and there must have just been something in the air (brings to mind a chicken and an egg). It was going on through the holidays, and that was breaking my heart. An advent anger issue? Yuck. “I don’t want this Lord! I am sorry! I don’t want to feel mad…I desire for you to help me get rid of this!” I pleaded in prayer one evening. Deep in my spirit, I knew there was one great big escape hatch, and I knew what to do. Confession.
Confession is a healing sacrament whereupon we receive great graces and consolation. It is terribly misunderstood by many Catholics and non-Catholics, and living in a culture where the concept of “guilt” is often considered old-fashioned or unhealthy, we must be careful to be sure who we are listening to when we decide that we really don’t need to feel bad about our mistakes. I listen to my gut (the Holy Spirit in my gut). My church and my gut. And both assure me that I don’t have to feel bad once I have recognized the mistake and really feel sorry about it, and then go speak it to a priest (as we believe for many reasons, which are noted in past posts but also note Catechism of the Catholic Church 1461-1467). God just wants us to come back to Him, it doesn’t matter what you did. He loves us like the father portrayed in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11). His mercy is so vast that we really can let go of our guilt or shame, because He took it and placed it as far away from us as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12). He can handle it. He is God.
So I got myself to a Saturday evening confession opportunity as quickly, and as early, as I could. Sometimes because I am always running late, there is a long line and I don’t make it in before the priest comes out to prepare for the upcoming mass. I always believe that God knows I made the effort, but there is a longing to rid myself of the sin in confession because of the amazing way I always feel afterward, healed from sin and so very loved.
I walk into the church, and there isn’t a soul, except one person walking toward me. Oh I am sure I have made some major mistake here. It’s a Holy day and the schedule changed? Or they moved mass to the other chapel? Or maybe they moved the time…I continued to think of reasons why it was so quiet in the sanctuary. I looked to the right where the confessional was and there was a warm, welcoming light inside just beyond the WIDE open door. “That cannot be right.” I assured myself. I grabbed the poor victim who happened to come into my range just then and said in disbelief “That….that door…that is the confessional?” I nodded to the quiet room. “Yes! The light’s on, the door is open! Go on in!” She said smiling and seemed to disappear around a corner.
Now normally I like to spend some quiet time in meditation examining my conscience, which, being as scrupulous as I am, can take a very long time. But no one dealing with anger decides to add to their frustration by waiting for a line to form, so I prayed a quick request to the Holy Spirit for light and guidance and ran right in, shut the door and plopped on my knees.
“FATHER FORGIVE ME! I HAVE SINNED! IT’s been…maybe 2 months since my last confession, but it feels like more.”
“Go ahead, I am listening.” Replied the kind voice.
“Well, you see Father, I have been really mad. Like really angry. Mad and angry. I could name a bunch of reasons, or people who “caused” my anger, but I know better. I am not confessing anyone’s sins but my own. I have made that mistake a bunch and I am going to take responsibility for these feelings. I just don’t feel very loving or forgiving lately.”
I went on for a while, and then Father kindly suggested a book about anger that he had received as a gift once and felt it would helped me. He told me to get the book and read it and that would be my penance. He wanted me to understand why I felt this way and what I could do about it.
A few days later I went to the bookshop in the church to find the book, only the title escaped me. I went through the section of books in related topics, and ironically found one copy of a book that perked my memory. In Spiritual Guidance a year ago, this book was recommended to me. It was about our emotions and how they relate to our spiritual life. The Emotions God Gave You by Art & Laraine Bennett. Well! I couldn’t remember the name of the anger book, but here was a good catch! I set it aside to purchase, and then asked the clerk about the anger book that Father had recommended. “Hmm, I don’t think I remember the exact title, but he is in his office down the hall if you want to go ask.” Down the hall I went and tapping at his door, I found him smiling and reading through some paperwork, and soon he was welcoming me in. I asked him about the book and he wrote down the title, but said he thought they were out in the book store (perhaps other people had felt a surge of anger in November?) He then said he thought he had a copy but couldn’t find it and recommended getting it on line.
Back to the bookshop to buy the emotions book I went, feeling bummed I couldn’t get my penance under way. I felt unburdened from confession but eager to understand what was up with my angry self. As I started to make my way to the exit, Father came chasing me down. “I found it! I found the book! Take it! It’s yours!” Overcoming Sinful Anger by Rev. T.G. Morrow.
Father’s generosity, and the Lord’s guidance out of this angry rut were still glistening in my head when I pulled into the driveway and checked the mailbox. There was a package for me, which was strange, as I hadn’t remembered ordering anything. In the mail that same day, as a gift from a Catholic book club (of sorts) I belong to, came the third leg of the “Anger Trifecta” answer. A book about forgiveness. Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody by Allen R. Hunt.
Wow Lord! Ask and you shall receive. I had to read about why my emotions were triggering toward anger, what notes a delineation between angry feelings and sinful anger, and finally, how to forgive. I couldn’t have ordered a more perfect trio online, with all the book choices at my fingertips.
I think my favorite part of this little story, is what happened about three weeks later. My sister-in-law and I always like to “talk shop” (our faith) when we get together. We are not the same specific faith, but we are sisters in Christ and we love to share the ways we are seeing Christ in our lives, and it really fills us both up with great joy. When we arrived at her house to visit after Christmas, she and I jumped right into sharing our faith again, when she pulled out her latest book and it too, was about emotions and faith. It was so linear to the ones I had just received that it gave me that amazing sense of God’s presence. As the night went on, the revelations that came between us through the power of the Holy Spirit were so significant and brilliant, I am still giving thanks to God for her and for those conversations. God is so good to give us so many faith-filled people around us when we need them. So what in the world is there to be angry about?