Deacon Walter Ayres
Deacon Walter Ayres

My Lenten journey has not been what I expected. It has taken me in a direction I never anticipated, one in which I yearn for more anger and more power. 

Normally, neither anger nor power are attributes which “good Catholics” are supposed to desire. However, at the right time, and under the proper circumstances, they are the very things that bring our faith to life.  

Let me begin with anger. My appreciation of anger has altered after I read an interview on the website of Commonweal magazine with Father Bryan Massingale, author of “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.” 

Father Massingale quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught that we can incur anger in three ways. The first is by excess, that is, by letting anger turn into rage. The second is by inappropriate object, as when we might get mad at our significant other and take it out on someone else. And the third way is by deficiency, which is when we are not angry when we ought to be angry, especially in the presence of injustice. 

Anger, he writes, is “the passion that moves the will to justice.” 

That certainly piqued my interest. But what he said next really got my attention. All too often, he said, “injustice festers in our world because people aren’t angry enough to do something about it.” 

Yet anger is not enough, as I learned from the Ecumenical Advocacy Day sponsored by the New York State Council of Churches last month. To be effective, anger needs power. 

 One of the featured speakers, Alex Tindal Wiesendanger, author of “Seeds of Justice: Organizing Your Church to Transform the World,” spoke about how power, by itself, is neither good nor bad. The important aspect is the purpose for which it is used. And if good people don’t use it, bad people certainly will. 

He offered a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Are there practical examples of this lack of power? Absolutely. Consider that in November, more than 70 percent of respondents in a poll favored raising the minimum wage to a level where full-time workers earn more than poverty wages. Yet such a bill cannot get through Congress. Another example: almost 60 percent of Americans favor stricter gun laws, but no such legislation can get passed. 

For Catholics, especially those who recognize the call to build a just world through participation in the political system, the message is clear. We need to work together to affect change in our society. We need to direct our righteous anger into political power to build a more just society.  

A first step is joining the Catholic Action Network (CAN), an arm of the New York State Catholic Conference that gives us all a larger voice in the halls of government. Through email and social media alerts, CAN reaches tens of thousands of Catholics like us “to provide educational updates on the important issues being debated and to provide you with the tools to simplify the process of contacting your elected officials.”

Similar organizations are the Franciscan Action Network, the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State, and the Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns. Just google their names to learn more about what each does and how you can be involved. 

This Lent, and continuing through the rest of the year, we have the opportunity to turn our anger about injustice into real power to create a world that truly cares for the least among us and for all who desire a world where justice flourishes. Please consider joining with others so that our power is no longer anemic, but strong with the faith that moves mountains. 

 Deacon Walter Ayres is the director for Catholic Charities’ Commission on Peace and Justice.