Father Kevin Michael Laughery, Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, USA, Roman Catholic Church
Last update and upload: Wednesday, May 27, 2020


In another essay, I considered the fact that our feelings are positive energies which allow us to act in ways which are in accord with our deepest longings. I proposed that we could understand feelings by recognizing anger, fear, and love as the fundamental feelings.

We all have a certain amount of discomfort with all three of these feelings. To a great extent, our misunderstanding of the meaning of the feelings contributes to the discomfort. And of the three, it seems to me that anger is the most misunderstood.

There is nothing morally wrong with the feeling of anger. Let me repeat that. There is nothing morally wrong with the feeling of anger. This may come as a surprise. This may be especially surprising, given that it is coming from a clergyman, someone who is supposed to be attuned to the moral quality of everything. And, given that we tend to associate anger with words and actions which are often uncharitable and destructive, we assume that anger is morally wrong.

But indeed, there is nothing morally wrong with the feeling of anger -- for there is nothing morally wrong with any feeling. Moral right and wrong have to do with what we will: what we choose to do. Feelings are prior to any choices we make. We have no choice about how we feel. We do, however, have the freedom to be healthily aware of our feelings; to consider the meaning of the feelings in light of what we are called to do here and now; to weigh the importance of our immediate gratification against universal ethical values; and to choose courses of action in accord with our identity as people devoted to the true and the good.

We feel angry when we sense that something is wrong and we want to make it right. When we are aware of feeling angry, we can then ask ourselves: what is the "wrong thing" that must presumably be changed? Very often, anger corresponds to dissatisfaction that things are not going "our way." This dissatisfaction, like the feeling, is morally neutral. The moral question comes into play as we see before us the opportunity to reflect on our dissatisfaction, to see ourselves called, at various times, either to accept things as they are (for the world cannot be run solely according to our whims) or to recognize real injustice and seek to correct it.

If I am told to sit in a certain place on a bus, I may feel angry because I am dissatisfied with the lack of choice. Reflecting upon my anger, I can consider the meaning of how I feel in context -- I can consider the significance of my feeling to the situation. If it is simply a matter of my arriving late, I must reason with myself and resign myself to the fact that other people have a right to the seat I might have preferred. But if my access to my preferred seat is prohibited because of a law which discriminates against me, I might consider taking actions which would call attention to this injustice. The world has indeed changed for the better precisely because individuals aware of their anger over an unjust situation have allowed their anger to move them to courageous action.

Father Kevin Laughery

Father Kevin Michael Laughery, Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, USA, Roman Catholic Church