Anger is unique and tricky because it is both a capital, or “deadly” sin (gravely evil) and also a passion (morally neutral, or even amoral). All human beings have passions, feelings, and emotions. The passion of anger is rightly directed toward perceived evils, and the better formed we are the more our emotional response of anger will be calibrated rightly.
For example, a saint would be angered by sin; one with less virtue might be angered by having to wait an extra minute in a shopping line. But the intellect and will must call the shots, not the anger–otherwise, we will move from passion to sin. That’s why it’s often important to cool off–if necessary and if circumstances allow–before responding to a perceived evil or injustice.
The passion of anger can and must be put to good use. We have a duty to resist evil, and so the lack of passion is a defect insofar as it would lead us to indifference toward sin.
How we deal with our anger matters greatly. Any evil that comes our way must be opposed righteously–always with the goal of fostering the salvation of souls and never to exact revenge. The crosses, abuses, and frustrations that provoke us to anger are the very stuff of our salvation. That doesn’t mean we must become doormats. However, when we seek legitimate redress we must unite ourselves more completely to Christ and gratefully welcome these opportunities to grow in grace and virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Above all, we should pray fervently for those who cause us to become angry. Having a godly attitude toward them won’t necessarily change them (though it might), but we’ll find that these prayers will change us, softening our hearts but not our minds.
Our Lord was like us in all things but sin. Therefore, He experienced the passion or emotion of anger, but He never committed the sin of anger. Meekness is the virtue opposed to anger, and Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29).
For more on the virtue of meekness, which moderates the passion of anger, click here.