Wrath Destroys

Author: Pope Francis

The Holy Father continues his weekly catechesis on vices and virtues 

Wrath destroys but holy indignation makes one human

At the General Audience on Wednesday morning, 31 January {2024], Pope Francis continued his series of catecheses on vices and virtues. This week he focused on the vice of wrath, which destroys human relationships. Wrath “expresses the incapacity to accept the diversity of others, especially when their life choices diverge from our own”, and “one begins to detest the tone of their voice, their trivial everyday gestures, their ways of reasoning and feeling”, the Pope explained. The following is a translation of the Holy Father's words to those gathered in the Paul VI Hall.

[The following text includes parts that were not read out loud, but should be considered as such.]

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

These weeks we are addressing the topic of vices and virtues, and today we will pause to reflect on the vice of wrath. It is a particularly dark vice, and it is perhaps the easiest to detect from a physical point of view. A person dominated by wrath finds it difficult to hide this impulse: you can see it it in the way their body moves, in the aggressiveness, the laboured breathing, and their grim and frowning expression.

In its most acute manifestation, wrath is a vice that concedes no respite. If it arises from an injustice suffered (or believed to be suffered), it is often unleashed not against the offender, but against the first unfortunate victim. There are men who withhold their rage in the workplace, appearing to be calm and composed, but at home, they become unbearable to their wives and children. Wrath is a pervasive vice: it is capable of depriving us of sleep, making us plot continuously in our mind, barring the way to reason and thought.

Wrath is a vice that destroys human relationships. It expresses the inability to accept the diversity of others, especially when their life choices diverge from our own. It does not stop at a person’s misconduct, but throws everything into the cauldron: it is the other person, the other as he or she is, the other as such, who provokes anger and resentment. One begins to detest the tone of their voice, their trivial everyday gestures, their ways of reasoning and feeling.

By the time the relationship reaches this level of degeneration, lucidity has been lost. Wrath makes us lose lucidity because one of its characteristics is that sometimes it fails to mitigate with time. In these cases, even distance and silence, instead of easing the burden of mistakes, magnify it. For this reason, the Apostle Paul — as we have heard — recommends to his Christians to address the problem straight away, and to attempt reconciliation: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger ” (Eph 4:26). It is important that everything dissipate immediately, before sundown. If some misunderstanding arises during the day, and two people can no longer understand each other, perceiving themselves suddenly far apart, the night must not be handed over to the devil. The vice would keep us awake in the dark, brooding over our reasons and the unspeakable mistakes that are never ours but always the other’s. It is like that: when a person is dominated by wrath, they always say that the other person is the problem. They are never capable of recognizing their own defects, their own shortcomings.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus makes us pray for our human relations, which are a minefield, a plane that is never in perfect equilibrium. In life, we have to deal with trespassers who are at fault with us, just as we have not always loved everyone in the right measure. To some we have not returned the love that was due to them. We are all sinners, all of us, and we all have accounts to settle: do not forget this! That is why we all need to learn how to forgive so as to be forgiven. People do not stay together if they do not also practice the art of forgiveness, as far as this is humanly possible. Wrath is countered by benevolence, openness of heart, meekness and patience.

But, on the subject of wrath, there is one last thing to be said. It is a terrible vice, it was said, that is at the origin of wars and violence. The Proem of the Iliad describes the wrath of Achilles, which will be the cause of “infinite woes”. But not everything that stems from wrath is wrong. The ancients understood well that there is an irascible part of us that cannot and must not be denied. Passions are to some extent unconscious: they happen, they are life experiences. We are not responsible for the onset of wrath, but always for its development. And at times it is good for anger to be vented in the right way. If a person were never angry, if a person were never indignant before an injustice, if they did not feel something quivering in their gut at the oppression of the weak, it would mean that the person was not human, much less a Christian.

Holy indignation exists, which is not wrath but an inner movement, a holy indignation. Jesus experienced it several times in his life (cf. Mk 3: 5). He never responded to evil with evil, but he felt this emotion in his soul, and in the case of the merchants in the Temple, he performed a strong and prophetic action, dictated not by wrath, but by zeal for the house of the Lord (cf. Mt 21:12-13). We must distinguish well: zeal, holy indignation, is one thing; wrath, which is bad, is another.

It is up to us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to find the right measure for passions, to train them well so that they may turn to good and not to evil. Thank you.

L'Osservatore Romano
2 February 2024, page 3