Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest and humble. (I Pet 3:8)
My dear brethren,
When Our Lord and then His apostles and disciples preached the new doctrine which we embrace and hold today and call our Catholic Faith, their teaching caused a sensation. It was something so different, so beautiful, so consoling and so true.
The new law that was preached was an internal law, a law of the heart. Hitherto, religious practice was an external affair. It was the same with the Jews, with their Mosaic Law, the same with the Greeks and Romans with their state gods, it is the same as with Hindus and Muslims today. The Law of Christ was completely different.
In the Gospel today (Mt 5:20-24), Our Lord preaches the new doctrine to the multitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. This new law - a law of the heart - did not replace the Mosaic law of external observance but completed it by linking external observance to the interior, hidden will. Our Lord illustrated this new law by explaining it in relation to the vice of anger.
What is Anger? Anger is a passion that leads us to confront an evil which is present before us. When it is under the control of the intellect and will (which are in turn directly ordered to God), anger is virtuous (eg. when Our Lord overturned the tables of the money changers in the Temple). When it is out or control or inordinate, it becomes the vice of anger.
The vice of anger is defined as the inordinate desire for revenge. It is most often a venial sin because it is of the imperfection of the desire, but in itself, when fully expressed, is a mortal sin. Our Lord takes this vice as an example because it is something we can all relate to (especially in our modern world where everyone seems so angry). It is an internal sin most of the time, but then sometimes bursts forth into a torrent of external acts which are always regrettable.
St. Thomas says that the effects of the vice of anger are either (a) Internal: Indignation, mental disturbance, or (b) External: noisy speech, blasphemy, abuse and quarrels.
The direct remedies to this vice are to forsee its causes, to resist its movement and to consider Christ’s example.
In the Epistle today, St. Peter encourages us to resist its movement by the practice of the new interior law - those virtues which are contrary to the vice of anger: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest and humble. (I Pet 3:8). Incidentally, cultivating the virtues contrary to our vices is the trademark of that great spiritual engineer, St. Ignatius of Loyola: Agere contra - Act against (one's disordered passions).
In St. John Gulbert, we have a marvellous example of the new interior law producing dramatic results. John Gaulbert was born in Florence in AD985. His only brother (Hugh) was murdered by his brother’s friend and John, urged on by his father, looked for the murderer to exact revenge. One day – it was Good Friday - he met him in a narrow street. John drew his sword, but the murderer who was unarmed, stretched out his arms and cried for mercy in honour and imitation of Jesus who died on this day. John, moved by a special grace dropped his sword, embraced his brother’s murderer and forgave him. He then walked to a nearby church and fell to his knees before a crucifix to beg forgiveness for his sinful life. When he saw Christ’s head bow to him, he resolved to give up his life of sin and enter a monastery. He late went to found the monastery of Vallombrosa after the rule of St. Benedict. He died in 1073 and was canonised in 1193.
Underpinning all virtues, however, must be an habitual submission to Christ's interior law. It is a custody of heart for Christ which is encouraged by the devotion of the Presence of God. In this devotion a soul turns heart and mind to God so frequently that it becomes a habit - a reflex - of every spare moment: when waiting for the kettle to boil, when staring out of the window, when walking in the street etc.. It is not a nervous checking of the spiritual pulse every few minutes as we would check a smartphone for new messages, but a habitual loving glance towards He Who is most loveable and by Whom we know ourselves to be loved. It is a manifestation of supernatural Charity.
Both the direct and remote remedies to the vice of anger are applications of the new interior law of Christ. It transformed the world in the first few centuries of the Church and it will do so again before the end of time. If we are to be instruments in this transformation of the world - something we are all called to! - we must turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary - not only as an example, but also as the mediatrix of supernatural grace by which we make Christ's interior law our very own and so become examples of the one true religion which is so different, so beautiful, so consoling and so true.