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Becoming “Slow to Anger” with the Power of Threes

Anna CAnna Costello Duran, Young Adult Ministerostello Duran,
Young Adult Minister
June 2, 2023

I give credit to my mom for teaching me the power of threes. In the Catholic tradition, the number three signals completion, expressive of a beginning, a middle, and an end, all in one. My mother taught me about special groups of three: my sister, my brother, and me; the strongest shape (triangles); and the Trinity. As we celebrate The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, let’s reflect on Paul’s three-fold blessing through our three readings. (Do you see the trend yet?)

After a long second letter to the Corinthians, Paul offers a Trinitarian blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13). This eloquent verse is considered one of the clearest New Testament passages about the Trinity. As I pray with this blessing, I wonder: how can we invite God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s fellowship to bless our lives?

Let’s begin with love. In the first reading, Moses encounters God in the form of a cloud who proclaims, “The LORD…[is] slow to anger and abounding in love” (Ex 34:6). Although there is much to say about God’s love, let’s focus on a characteristic that is interdependent with it: being slow to anger.

When discussing anger, it’s important to clarify a common myth: anger is neither negative nor bad. Although many of us have experienced unhealthy forms of anger, such as explosiveness or violence directed towards people, the emotion itself provides valuable information. Anger tells us that something is wrong, such as when a boundary is violated, or a need goes unmet.

When we’re slow to anger, we don’t lash out (experts call this “anger at”); rather our rage signals a need for change that can motivate us to take action to correct injustice (“anger that”). Some have called anger the power that protects love. So, instead of judging anger, we can start listening to messages behind it.

This brings us to the next blessing: God’s grace. Our gospel reading proclaims, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn…but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). When we emulate Christ, we move from criticism to offering grace freely for ourselves and others.

This biblical concept has been integrated into a trauma-informed practice called “pre-forgiveness.” Pre-forgiveness acknowledges that all humans make mistakes, normalizing forgiveness and reconciliation. We’re all familiar with these ideas, which are summed up in the golden rule (Matthew 7:12) and the 90’s W.W.J.D. bracelets (anyone?). However, many of us have found that we’re more likely to “beat ourselves up” about little things than to criticize others.

I’ll never forget a lesson on forgiving myself that a friend once taught me. We were driving a new, borrowed car, navigating slowly as families and little ones wandered to and fro in a packed parking lot. After stopping for the umpteenth time, I finally saw an exit route and began a three-point turn. As I reversed, I gently tapped an item that I hadn’t noticed in the rearview mirror: a porta-potty. (I’ll let that metaphor sink in.) As I jumped out of the car, flustered and scanning for damage, my rage turned into negative self-talk. Thankfully, my friend helped me slow down and advised, “What would you say to a friend if they’d done this? I want you to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.”

It’s time to allow Christ’s grace to bless us as individuals, just as often as we bless others. What types of self-care might we adopt – more sleep? play? other forms of rejuvenation? – in order to show up with the patience we need to emulate Jesus’s grace instead of following the urge to criticize?

The final blessing in Paul’s Trinitarian prayer is for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We often experience the unity and accompaniment of the Holy Spirit when in relationship with people and the natural world. The Paulist Center knows this well and we hold fresh memories of celebrating Pentecost together. Like the fire of the Holy Spirit, anger is a gift in our lives, offering piercing clarity and a sense of control over powerlessness.

With the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to recognize our emotions and discern their path. How might we practice attuning to our feelings – noticing a hint of sadness or a spark of awe – to cultivate being slow to anger? Through practice, we’ll become more aware of what the simmer of rage feels like. Then, if we want to listen to anger’s message, we can take a walk, practice breathing exercises (such as inhaling for three counts and exhaling for six), change our environment, or make time for prayer.

Slowing down increases our capacity to discern, only allowing anger to burst out of righteousness, such as when we learn of abuse, oppression, poverty, and suffering. This is the anger of our God: an anger that stems from unconditional love and an anger that knows its power as an agent of change to fuel our work for justice.

As we move towards Ordinary Time, I pray for the extraordinary power of the Trinity to guide our way as “slow-to-anger” people. May the blessings of God’s love, Christ’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s fellowship be with you all!