My friend Abby once told me, “Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, but some people hide it really well.” Who could disagree? We’ve all encountered people in life or online who get on our nerves and even stir up genuine anger. Healthy anger moves us toward Christ-like love and positive action. Unhealthy anger turns into a seething hatred of “the other,” whoever that might be.
Catholics aren’t immune, with many “I’m a better Catholic than you because…” arguments going on. The bickering doesn’t always result in civil, reasoned debate, but rather descends into personal insults. Why?
Social media allows us to experience community, which is a good thing. But when we mock a person we disagree with, it can produce a mob mentality where everyone piles on, creating a “dark glee,” as Pope Francis describes the feeling we get when gossiping about someone. As humans, it’s natural to fall into this trap. But as Christians, we’re called to be better. Jesus said in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Sometimes, we justify our anger by noting that admonishing the sinner is a Spiritual Work of Mercy, and that Jesus could speak harshly, too. Jesus, however, was the Son of God, who knew people’s hearts, minds and souls. Since you and I don’t have that ability, we need to be more diplomatic in admonishing the sinner, especially if it’s someone on social media we don’t personally know. After all, the goal is to change someone’s mind, which requires the person you’re talking with to be receptive to your ideas. When someone feels attacked, they become defensive, not receptive, so your chances of accomplishing something decrease.
So, how can we deal with anger? If you read something online that you disagree with, say a prayer for the person to become more open to God’s mercy and truth. In a supernatural sense, it will have more effect than a snarky online comment. And make sure the prayer is humble, not like the Pharisee’s prayer from Luke 18, in which he praises himself for not being like the tax collector. If you do choose to respond, follow St. Paul’s example from Acts 17, talking to the pagans in Athens. He praises them for being religious, instead of condemning them for worshiping idols. Then he introduces the ideas of the one true God and His Son, Jesus.
Also, consider Jesus’s Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10. This story has become neutered in the modern world to refer to anyone doing a good deed. But there is a lot more going on. The Jewish people hated the Samaritans because of religious differences, yet Jesus specifically chose to make one the hero of His story. The message, it seems, is that there is divine goodness even in the people you can’t stand.
If being on social media leaves you angry, take a break. Reach out to people in the real world in a way that involves helping them and building them up. Those actions will produce a healthy joy and fulfillment. If you don’t want to give up social media, choose your battles wisely, and engage in them with Christian civility and responsibility. And make sure that any anger you experience is short-lived and moves you toward positive action. The only person that long-term anger will change over time is you.
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