This week, one of my blog posts was featured on the website of the British magazine, The Freethinker. The topic was the so called “Magdalene Laundries” in Ireland - homes run by nuns in the 1950s and 60s for girls in crisis pregnancies. Accusations of historic abuse have been made about those who ran the homes, and a report has been published by the Irish government.
The author at The Freethinker didn’t bother to deal with anything like facts, statistics, or objective reporting. He skipped the reference to the MacAleese report, which concluded that the abuse had been exaggerated, and simply took the opportunity to ridicule me and sling mud at the Catholic Church. The comments in the combox took the author’s loudmouth style a few notches up into red-blooded threats, gutter vulgarity, and coarse attempts at humor - all of them bristling with aggression and a strong undercurrent of irrational rage. The writers and readers at The Freethinker seem to be neither free nor thinkers.
If you read almost any article in the mainstream press about the Pope or the Catholic Church and skip down to the comments box, you’ll find a similar torrent of obscenities, mockery, blasphemies and sheer, bile-spitting hatred. Beneath these reactions lies an irrational rage - a rage that will not and cannot be deemed reasonable.
All of us lose our cool from time to time, and when anger strikes, it rears its head with a certain frightening and irrational element. We lose control. That’s what losing our temper means. However, most of us bounce back. We realize our anger has pushed us over into being unreasonable and we usually stop and think things through; we try to see the other person’s point of view and offer an apology.
This is what distinguishes ordinary anger from rage. Rage is another term for the deadly sin called wrath. Like anger, rage is irrational, but unlike anger, it remains irrational. Rage seethes and simmers like a volcano about to erupt. Anger is a sudden reaction to circumstances. (Someone nips in and takes the parking space I wanted, and now I’m angry.)
Anger is understandable and permissible. In fact, in one of the wisest verses in the Bible, St. Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). The expression of anger, however is not the same as the deep irrational rage we are witnessing at an increasing and disturbing level in our society.
Rage lurks in the shadows of the deepest reservoirs of the human heart. Rage is reptilian and comes from the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain is that most primitive and instinctive part of our being; from thence, we respond at a survivalist level that is beneath language and reason. Our reptilian instincts are all about protection and defense. Rage is lodged there with fear and the need to fight and seek revenge. At this level of our being is the need to belong to a tribe in order to protect ourselves. At this level we get together to attack those who threaten us. This primitive survival response is, in fact, what lies behind all forms of rage. When we feel threatened, like a cornered beast, we huddle in the corner and snarl at our perceived attacker.
Why, then, such irrational and terrifying rage against Catholics? Usually on the surface level, the rage is expressed as anger about the child abuse scandals. However, this is simply the outward focus of the rage. Those who look rationally at the abuse scandals are sickened and ashamed, but they are also aware of the facts - that Catholic priests do not abuse at a worse rate than the rest of the population, and that the cover ups were matter of policy for many institutions in the past, not just the Catholic Church.
There is justification for anger and dismay at what happened in the past, but those who express irrational rage cannot see the facts. The rage is all there is, and if it were not this scandal, there would be another focus for it.
What is the real cause of the irrational rage? The answer may sound trite and even sentimental: the real cause of the irrational rage is a lack of love. At that same primal level of existence, every person needs total, complete, unconditional acceptance and affirmation. When that is lacking (for whatever reason), there is a void at the depth of the human person.
That void is a gnawing hunger so deeply rooted that it is too primitive to be ensconced by rational understanding, explication, or explanation. That gnawing hunger for total and complete affirmation and acceptance surfaces first as fear, and then as irrational rage. When that primal rage is compounded by failures in love, parental rejection, personal disappointment, and the general difficulties of life, a bubbling undercurrent of rage haunts the person’s life.
In this case (but also more generally in this day and age), the rage was focused on the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church is just one target. Rage might be focused on any number of outward objects: the rich or the poor; immigrants or established citizens; those of another race, or those of one’s own. It might be focused on those who abuse the environment or on those who wish to preserve nature. It might be focused on just about anything, anyone or any cause. The focus of the rage is immaterial; the rage is there, and it must be focused on something.
The solution to combatting rage may seem trite and superficial, but It is not. The answer is just as deep as rage itself: prayer. Through prayer - especially meditative and contemplative prayer - the deepest recesses of the heart are opened to the only thing that will cure this irrational rage: the Divine Mercy. The Divine Mercy is simply the overwhelming and eternal love of God. Through prayer, this sacred power sweeps into the far reaches of the human heart to solve the problems and salve the wound.
The practice of Christian prayer is practical, and its effects transformative. It is the witness of millions that prayer brings peace to the soul. Prayer calms the troubled heart and brings reconciliation, healing, and light to the human person caught up in the maelstrom of rage. Prayer also brings a specially graced lightness of being; it puts things in order and allows a person to be at peace, knowing that the terrifying beast of rage is at last calmed and tamed.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing and many other books. Visit his blog, subscribe to his newsletter, and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.