Sunday, March 1, 2015

Raqa, Anger, and Whitewashed Tombs

Once in a while I run into the notion that emotions, particularly strong or unpleasant ones like anger, are bad — or 'beastly,' not something people should experience.

Reality check.

Emotions are part of being human. There's something seriously wrong with someone who lacks emotions. It can be a sign of hebephrenia, or other serious disorders.

We may seem less emotional as we mature: but that's because most of us learn how to manage our emotions. Or mismanage them.

Being Someone


It's hardly surprising that an angry human and an angry cat look alike in some ways. We're both animals — I'd better explain that.

I'm a Catholic, so I must believe that humanity is made in the image of the God. (Genesis 1:27)

Each of us is someone, not something; a person — able to reason, and decide how we act — and in these ways like God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 357, 1700-1706)

Our track record for using our reason and freedom is far from perfect, and that's another topic. (Catechism, 1707-1709)

We're animals, male and female: a special sort of animal; able to reason, understand, discern, and decide how we think and act. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 1951, 1730)

Getting back to anger — like any other emotion, it isn't good or bad by itself. Emotions happen. What matters is how I deal with being angry: how I use my will and reason. (Catechism, 1767)

High Stakes


Our Lord raised the stakes in Matthew 5:20-26, Friday's Gospel reading.
"15 16 'You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, "You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment."

"17 But I say to you, whoever is angry 18 with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna."
(Matthew 5:21-22)
Behaving ourselves, controlling our actions, is a good idea. So is controlling what happens inside, in our heart. (Matthew 15:18-19)

That's the idea behind the crack about whitewashed tombs in Matthew 23:26-27: or whited sepulchers, for folks who like antique English.

Matthew 5 isn't the only place where we're told to lay off saying "raqa," metaphorically speaking.

Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers: "...do not provoke your children to anger...," which is pretty close to Colossians 3:21. I think the same goes for teachers, which isn't quite another topic. (Catechism, 2223, 2286)

"Raqa," or "reqa," probably meant something like "imbecile," or "blockhead" in Aramaic. Either way, it's offensive: the sort of insult that could lead to murder.

I'm pretty sure that the idea in Matthew 5:22 is that verbal abuse is a bad idea, and we shouldn't do it. The other person might get angry enough to hurt me.

Worse, in a way, venting my feelings could become a bad habit: which probably involves my basal ganglia, and certainly gets harder to change as I get older.

Bottom line — How we treat others matters. So does what we keep in our minds and hearts.

Anger, Emotions, and Getting a Grip


The brain's neurocircuitry handles emotions, which is why hypothalamic disease plays hob with our feelings.

Wrenching myself back on-topic — In English, a "passion" is a strong emotion; a state of strong sexual desire, or love; or boundless enthusiasm. (thefreedictionary.com)

In Catholic writing, "passion" means something closer to "feelings." These emotions push us toward acting or not acting about something we feel or imagine is good or evil. (Catechism, 1763)
"ANGER: An emotion which is not in itself wrong, but which, when it is not controlled by reason or hardens into resentment and hate, becomes one of the seven capital sins. Christ taught that anger is an offense against the fifth commandment (1765, 1866, 2262)."

"PASSIONS, MORAL: The emotions or dispositions which incline us to good or evil actions, such as love and hate, hope and fear, joy and sadness, and anger (1763)."
(Catechism, Glossary)
I don't think that feeling angry about some injustice is wrong. Deliberately staying angry, letting that emotional impulse turn into hate or despair: that would be wrong. (Catechism, 1501, 2091)

The flip side of despair is presumption, and that's yet another topic. (Catechism, 2092)

Feeling, Thinking


Feeling angry isn't good, bad, or indifferent — not in terms of being good or bad.

Sometimes it just happens.

Hanging on to anger, letting it build into a desire to harm or kill someone else: that's where it becomes a sin. (Catechism, 1762-1775, 2302-2303)

Like it says in Romans 12:19: "...'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' " And that's yet again another topic. (January 11, 2015; July 13, 2014; September 11, 2010)

Then there's the notion that God has anger management issues. It's not limited to Americans. More topics. (July 13, 2014; December 1, 2013)

Doing what's right is easier when emotions are in sync with our reason: but "...conscience is a law of the mind...." We've got brains, and are expected to think. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1762-1775, 1776)

More of my take on making sense:

5 comments:

FRANCIS HAIGHT said...

Brian,

After reading a number of your articles I can say I appreciate that you think things through and can articulate those thoughts quite clearly. I'm glad you address topics that should be of interest to all of us, especially Catholics and anyone calling themselves Christian.

The subject of anger, especially, and its relation to forgiveness, like the relation of feelings to agape, is of most importance to me.

Perhaps it's my training as a technician, but I seem to be more concerned about the technical specifics, as much as we can discern them, as to what forgiveness is, what it is not, and how it's done. I have searched the CCC thoroughly for clear, concise information on these and didn't find it. Perhaps I'm too scrupulous, but I think it odd that, whereas Our Lord considered forgiveness important enough to include it in the Lord's Prayer, there's not more effort made by the teaching authority of the Church to make these aspects of forgiveness a teaching priority rather than leave them to personal opinion, which is all I've heard from people, even priests in Confession. Not too long ago, one said "first of all, you can't forget...", which more makes sense to me than what a different priest said a short time later, which was that you must forget. When I asked the latter if a (infrequently occurring resentment) toward this person or that means I hadn't forgiven them for 'whatever', he stopped and said "that's a good question". Please tell me I'm not the only person to have ever had this question cross my mind. I just don't want to spend the rest of my days wondering if I had forgiven someone merely because occasionally I catch my mind going down memory lane and replaying those old tapes (which is another topic, lol). At some point, I jump off that gravy train, take a deep breath and ask Our Lord to bless them and for the grace to stop the stroll before it even begins, but I don't know if that counts. I can catch myself on the gravy train and then jump off, but can't seem to keep off of it in the first place. In any case, I don't care how difficult forgiveness is as long as it's execution is plain as day, a thing done or not done, rather than "gee, Father, I thought I'd forgiven so-n-so; I want to forgive so-n-so, why does the resentment keep coming back?"

Anyway, I think it's the most important topic today.

God Bless,

Frank

Brian Gill said...

Thank you for your good words, FRANCIS HAIGHT.

I'm sure that you're not the only one of the world's billion-odd living Catholics who aren't sure about what, exactly, we should do about emotions, anger, forgiveness, and everything. ;)

I'm also not surprised that you get different responses - some not entirely satisfactory - from different priests. Like the rest of us, they're human - and function within the limits of their experience and abilities.

On my part, I don't find it odd that the Church doesn't concentrate on what puzzles me. After two millennia, there's an incredible amount of accumulated wisdom to pass along. Sorry, that may not have come out right.

I have trouble with old "tapes" replaying - - - and will probably be working on correcting that until my particular judgment.

About "concise" definitions - I sympathize. Much of the literature provided by the Church is written by and for academics. That's not a criticism: it's just the way it is.

Happily, contemporary technology makes research a lot faster than it was in my youth. I strongly recommend the Holy See's website. ( http://www.vatican.va )

It helps if you know several languages: particularly Latin and Italian. I don't, but I know how to translate (and understand that the results are - - - rough, at best), and that's another topic.

I *think* you're wondering about emotions, forgiveness, and "agape," which is a particular kind of love, the name of a Christian music group, and an over-used cliche as of a few decades back. Among other things.

It's not exactly concise, but Catechism, 1762-1775, discusses "morality of the passions." Passions - in this context - means "emotions," more or less.

From the Glossary (print edition, available on USCCB website ( http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/OEBPS/51-glossary.xhtml#glossP ) Morality of the passions: "The emotions or dispositions which incline us to good or evil actions, such as love and hate, hope and fear, joy and sadness, and anger (1763)."

Hope some of that helps.

Francis Haight said...

Much of that helps very much. Thank you, Brian.

True enough it is that our priests are human, like the rest of us. The only reason I find a dearth of focus on the subject of forgiveness, in particular, odd, is because of its critical importance, considering that it comes second among the petitions in the 'Our Father' and is conditional on how or whether we forgive others -- and I've spent years trying to square it with the occasional resentment. I hear its importance discussed frequently but not a word about what it really means; then we all go our separate ways, each with his own assumptions and opinions, while thinking we're all on the same page. I don't want to over-think it, but neither am I comfortable with such loose ends anymore.

The last useful discussion I heard on these distinctions was Ven. Archbishop Sheen (on an episode of "Life is Worth Living") explaining the difference between the love we're called to have for each other (that's what I meant by agape), as an act of the will, and our personal feelings on the other hand which, he said, are in the gut, the glands, and no more subject to our will, or really relevant, than the weather. I think forgiveness is an example of that kind of love, at least until I learn different. Thank you for the resource suggestions.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Frank

Brian Gill said...

Thank you Francis Haight, I hope the resources help - - - or at least point in a useful direction.

I doubt very much that you are the only person to have your questions. We're all distinct individuals - but there's a great deal we all have in common, too. Uncertainty being one of those things.

About 'forgetting' and 'not forgetting' - - - that's getting into semantics, and more than I want to tackle at this point: not in detail.

I think we're looking at a minimum of two phenomena, which both are called "forgetting" in our language.

There's probably a post topic lurking in there - - - one that'll require serious research. Which is fun, but time-consuming.

My experience is not quite like yours. I'm currently working with a parish priest, taking care of some long-overdue spiritual housecleaning from when I was 12 years old. It's been bothersome - since I know what happened, but have no conscious memory of the events: or a block of time surrounding them. Frustrating, rather.

Sheen is a very hard act to follow. ;)

My response was - delayed. It's been one of those weeks - nothing big, just a lot of little stuff, plus trouble sleeping. Oh, well.

Francis Haight said...

Sorry to hear you're having trouble sleeping, Brian.

I thank you for taking the time to respond at all.

I understand we all have our demons. Holy week seems as good a time as any to do some soul searching, to "get real". Ven. Abp Sheen seems a solid source of wisdom, as do so many Catholic writers, speakers and thinkers. I love Chesterton. Recently I was reflecting on the use of the metaphorical "heart" in scripture ("Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be...") and thought about its relation to the will --vs. emotion/feelings. Previously, a source of confusion for me was a notion that the heart was the seat of emotion. Now it makes much more sense to consider the heart to be the seat, not of the feelings, but of the will itself; I decide what I want, not my feelings; my gut can remain the seat of emotion and have a nice day. Since true love is an act of the will for the good of another, regardless of my gut-based preferences, understanding the "heart" in this way makes the whole business of Christian charity suddenly more rational, actually within my reach, as it were; and I see that the way to the narrow gate may be a rough one, but it's not a trip down the rabbit hole. How I think this relates to my earlier discussion about forgiveness is in the fact that forgiving another is just such a choice, a choice not only to stay off the resentment train, but that I do love the other person, regardless of how it feels. It may hurt like a punch in the gut to make that declaration, sealed with an "Amen", but a little reflection on what our Lord went through both our sakes, as an act of His will, the way seems suddenly well lit, if only for a short distance. It's not easy, but it is simple, and that's all I ask.

I hope you sleep better. I see it's high time for me to turn in. Yikes!

God bless.

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