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Part 5: Wrath
Let's talk about sin, shall we? The following is part five of our weekly Lenten series on the Seven Deadly Sins.
On April 20, 2011, here at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, a few of us had a rather surreal afternoon. A box truck had arrived as expected to deliver the first set of life-size bronze statues for our outdoor Stations of the Cross.
Once the individual crates were unloaded, we grabbed crowbars and knives and set about disassembling and dismantling the packaging. Among the first we unsheathed were a couple angry-faced Roman centurions. Of course they weren't yet integrated with their respective Stations — one slated for the First Station in which Jesus is condemned to die and another one for the Third Station when a beaten Jesus falls for the first time under the weight of the Cross.
It was a beautiful day. The grass was green, the sky was blue. And here were these life-like, angry, murderous men, hollow-eyed, faces of hatred, gazing off into the vanishing point as if furious at the world and everything in it.
Out of context, they reminded me of how, when I was but a wee lad, my mother introduced us to a funny little parlor game of muting the sound on the television during some sort of intense scene in which villains blow their gasket. Decoupled from sound and context, how ridiculous those villains looked. How ugly.
In its way, that fun little exercise gave us an awareness of what wrath looks like. The face of wrath looks ridiculous. It looks ugly. Indeed, wrath is ridiculous. It is ugly. And when viewed out of context, it does beg the question: What in the world is this dude's problem, anyway? And do I ever look that way? Please tell me I never look that way.
But just like with those statues, sooner or later we are duty-bound to put wrath into context. What made those centurions that way? What makes us that way?
When you turn the sound back up, or when you put the Roman centurions into context — or when you read the newspapers and see the latest act of violence — we see wrath in its distilled state, red hot and forged to a sharp point. We know what wrath can do. Things get out of control. The order of the soul is overturned. Wrath often leads to violence, and violence can lead to killing, and killing can lead to retribution, and a vicious cycle is born. Case in point: the Middle East, where killing a terrorist guarantees that two or more will take his place. Wrath against wrath. What a waste.
And every act of violence is yet another lash mark etched onto the bare skin of the Prince of Peace.
For the Roman centurions, acting on behalf of the Jewish leaders of the day — who were jealous of Jesus, frightened by Him, incredulous, and spiritually blind — torturing and murdering Jesus was good sport. What of the terrorists of our day? What of the members of ISIS, for example? They actually believe they are serving God. They actually believe what they are doing is right. And those among them who should know better are all too happy to exploit and conscript to acts of violence those who don't know any better.
As Christians, we have a responsibility under God. We are not only called to be meek like Jesus — to be forbearing when injured and to forgive those who have harmed us or offended us. We are called to a potentially trickier task of empathizing with the wrathful — to understand them. We are called to see them as fellow human beings and children of God, broken, wounded, fearful, and in need of prayer. What made them this way? Are they reacting to an injustice. Were they exploited? Were they brainwashed?
We must try to understand. This is how we change the world for the better. Meekness — steadfast meekness, courageous meekness — is the means by which hearts can be converted.
Pray for those self-destructive souls suffering under the sin of wrath. Pray for their conversion. Know that conversion is possible. Pray that we ourselves may have the wisdom in times of fury to put our emotions on mute and to take a good look at ourselves.
As the bronze statues were put into place and the Stations assembled, those angry faces were put into context. Those centurions had their eyes set upon the anguished Christ bearing His heavy cross. They killed Him. But just before He died, what did He say?
Christ prayed to God the Father who is "slow to anger and rich in kindness" (Ex 34:6). He beseeched God the Father on behalf of His wrathful tormentors. He uttered one of the most practical, beautiful thoughts ever uttered: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34).
Truly, He was the Son of God. Only through Him, only with Him, and only in Him can anger evaporate.
The Seven Deadly Sins