Wednesday October 8, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jonah 4:1-11) Gospel (St. Luke 11:1-4)
As we hear about the prophet Jonah, one cannot help but to think how much Jonah is just like ourselves. When things do not go the way we want them to, we oftentimes get angry. When we see that God is gracious to somebody else and we somehow think He was not quite so gracious to us, we get angry. When we want something and it does not go the way we think it should have gone, we get angry. Not anything unlike Jonah. Jonah runs away from God as we saw, just like us. Jonah reluctantly did what God asked him to do. Well, maybe we do that sometimes, that is, sometimes we do not do what God wants at all; most of the time, when we do what He wants, it is reluctantly. Then when it actually is successful, our reaction really is not what it ought to be. Rather than rejoicing because we see that what God had wanted us to do in the first place actually worked out perfectly, pride tends to get in the way. We tend to be angry rather than being humble and acknowledging that what God wanted from the start really was what was best. We tend not to want to admit that because it was not what we had chosen from the start; and, after all, we know better anyway. But then we see what Jonah did with the plant. The gourd plant comes up one night and Jonah is happy about it. It dies the next night and Jonah gets angry. God sends a hot wind, and Jonah thinks it would be better for him to die just because he is uncomfortable. Jonah could be an American because that is the way we are. After all, if the thermostat is off by two degrees or something we are going to get pretty upset because it is too hot in here or too cold in here, whatever it happens to be. All of us can learn some pretty good lessons about ourselves by simply looking at Jonah.
But then we have to look at what God says. Not only with regard to the fact that Jonah was upset because God did not kill all these people – God is saying to Jonah, “Should I not have been concerned about all these people? You’re concerned about a stupid plant, but yet you were hoping that all the people would be destroyed,” – but even more than that, for a practical lesson for ourselves (because most of us probably are not running around hoping that God is going to wipe out a bunch of people), we need to look at the anger because that is something many Americans do pretty well. We are so accustomed to the ease and the comforts and the pleasure of the American way of life that when we do not get what we want, when it is a little bit uncomfortable, then we tend to get very angry. We need simply to ask ourselves, “What good is it?” As God asked Jonah, “Have you reason to be angry?” Oh, we will stomp our feet and smack our fist into the table and we will say, “Yes! I have every reason in the world to be angry!” I would simply challenge you to say, “Look at God, and then explain to Him what right and reason you have to be angry.”
When we look at it from that perspective, then we begin to realize that it is kind of stupid to be angry. It is not doing us one bit of good; it is only because of selfishness most of the time. Probably more than 90% of the times we get angry it is purely a matter of pride. We get angry because we did not get our way, because our pride got hurt somehow. If we were truly spiritual like the saints, we would be rejoicing because we just got a good dose of humility; but instead we get angry because we do not have the humility to be able to accept. If you look back over your life, just ask yourselves, “How many times when I have been angry has the anger helped the situation?” I could pretty well guarantee you that you can count it on your fingers, because it does not help. It might help to motivate you to correct an injustice, which is the proper response. You should be angry when there is an injustice, but that is merely to correct the injustice. The correction has to be done out of charity, not out of anger. Most of the time it is not because of an injustice, and most of the time we carry through with our anger and we do not do it out of charity. And we see that once again our anger just gets in the way and it causes more trouble for us and for other people.
If we can see the pattern, that is when we can look at this and say, “I need to learn to accept. I need to learn meekness,” – which is the virtue opposite of the anger – “And I need just to learn to be at peace. God is in control, not me, so why should I be angry? If I’m allowing the Lord to be in control, then I will accept what He sends.” That is a good resolution, anyway; we can try to work toward it. But that is what we need to look at because one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is joy. That is a decidedly unAmerican virtue and we need to get it back because it is a decidedly divine virtue, and if we do not have joy, then in essence what we are saying is that we do not really have the Holy Spirit in His fullness the way He wants to be working in us. If we are angry, that is one of the devil’s virtues, but for God it is vice; it is a sin most often. So we need to work on the anger and get it under control and learn to be at peace and learn to be joyful. That will only happen in prayer. It is not something you can just make a decision about and say, “Okay, I guess I won’t be angry anymore.” But only in that union with Christ in prayer will that come about. So we need to look very seriously at this situation in our lives of the anger that might be present, and we need to look at the Lord. It is only in Christ that we will find the peace and the joy that we need.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.