Franciscan Monk in Contemplation of the Bible, Charles Augustin Wauters, 1852

A Reading From the Holy Gospel According to Matthew

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry 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. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

Transcription of Homily

The Gospel of the Lord

In today’s Gospel, certainly, we have an allusion to the truth of Purgatory in which this Gospel passage ends with the faithful, who has not forgiven his enemy, being handed over to the guard, put in prison, and not released until he had paid the last penny. When Our Lord is laying down these precepts in the Sermon on the Mount here, it’s interesting to notice the language. He speaks in verb forms: You who do this. If you kill. If you say this. And these are actions that are done in a moment, but then He switches and doesn’t use a verb, rather He uses an adjective: If you are angry, and the word is ὀργιζόμενος (orgizomenos), which means a habitual anger. We’ve all met people that are that…

We’ve all gotten angry but one thing is to get angry at times quite another thing is to be angry. To be angry, then, is to have what’s called habitus mentis a habit of mind that now becomes the prism, the lens, through which I see things. It’s basically an imitation of the devil’s own existence, who has chosen to be angry and he sees everything good through this prism of anger. It’s a choice and it becomes a rut. Once somebody has repeated the sin of anger enough, it becomes their way of life, and this anger then touches everything. These are people who are so turned in on their own woundedness that it makes worship impossible, and that’s why Our Lord discusses this in the context of worship.

He said, ‘If you are on the way to the Temple to leave your offering, and you haven’t made amends, you haven’t resolved this anger, your worship is useless.’ What does it mean to hold a grudge and try to do adoration? What does it mean for us to cultivate anger as a choice? I’m not speaking about righteous anger, just anger, which is moderate and therefore virtuous.

John Chrysostom tells us that if we are not angry about the right things, we sin by defect. It’s an omission. That’s a sin of omission to not be angry about the right things. If we see the Bride of Christ attacked, for example. If we see nuns mocked at the Dodgers game, that ought to bring about a righteous anger, and if we’re not angry, that is a spiritual problem. But our anger always has to be just in the sense of the cause, but also righteous in the sense of moderation. 

The problem with the angry man is that this becomes his own religion. If the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity demand totality, well, we also have our own disordered passions that are going to clamor for totality. And, once we give into the passion, whether it’s lust, or whether it’s anger, that then demands so much of us that our entire being is compromised. And being compromised our attempts at worship become futile.

Our Lord gives us these powerful words in the Our Father, not very far away in the discourse, in which we conditioned God’s mercy: Forgive us… as we forgive those who trespass against us. We conditioned God’s mercy, telling Him to forgive us just as we forgive. We ought to think about what that means. Do I really want God to forgive as I forgive, if my forgiveness isn’t divine? 

Return of the Prodigal Son Icon, Modern

Our Lord, in His charity, is laying down these conditions. He’s basically just describing a situation, but then He gives us a prescription, right, of reconciliation, and this reconciliation doesn’t mean that all of a sudden everything is fine, or we trust the person, or anything, but we don’t hold a grudge. And what does it mean to forgive somebody else? It means that I wish the best for that person. I pray for that person. I ask God to pray and to forgive that person. And I ask God to forgive me for any grudge that I may have held. When we have that three-fold act of forgiveness — Lord, I forgive that person. I ask you to forgive that person. I ask you to forgive me. — All of a sudden, this temptation to anger, especially with old wounds and memories, this temptation to anger then becomes a vehicle to holiness.

This is why Our Lord allows even our disordered passions, whatever they may be, whatever the shape that they take in a given moment, to be not our downfall, necessarily, but part of the path to holiness. And so, we’re not set up for failure. These challenges then, well used, serve Our Lord’s purposes and ultimately, our own spiritual lives.

In the Name of the Father, of the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen

— Fr. Ermatinger