Saturday, April 16, 2011

Lenten Reflection: Envy, the Sixth Capital Sin

"Let us not become desirous of vain-glory, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians, 5:26.

In Greek history we read of a youth who so distinguished himself in the public games that his fellow citizens raised a statue in his honor in order to keep fresh' the memory of his victories. This statue so excited the spirit of envy in the heart of another young man who had been defeated in the contests, that he stole out one night under cover of darkness to destroy the sculptured figure. After hours of effort he succeeded in moving the statue from its base, but it slipped and fell, crushing the envious one to death.

Envy always has the same effect. It harms and: even destroys the one who is guilty of it. It hurts the heart and the character of the one who gives way to the feeling of spite. We hope by our ill-will to injure others. We may wound them slightly, but in doing so we kill ourselves, as did the Athenian youth.

It was a pagan, a man unenlightened by the teachings of Christ, Socrates, who taught that no evil man can harm a good man, and that all the fatal wounds to character are self-inflicted. Even the innocent may suffer from the spite of others, but the suffering will not affect their souls unless they allow the poison of envy and discontent to corrupt them.

1. Envy, the sixth capital sin, means a sadness and annoyance at another’s temporal or spiritual good, as seeming to lessen our own good. Envy means a sorrow or sadness over some blessing of body or soul which another has, with the thought that his success seems to be harmful to our own interests or excellence. It means discontent at the good fortune of another.

2. When voluntary and deliberate envy is a serious sin. 'We see the grievousness of this vice when we consider:
A. That it is directly opposed to the all-important virtue of charity, charity that weeps with them who weep, and rejoices with them who rejoice, as St. Paul commands us:

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." Romans, 12:15.

Envy does the very opposite: it is glad when others are sad, and sad when others are glad. Charity turns enemies into friends; envy turns friends into enemies.

B. That envy is opposed to reason in that it grieves over something that is good, namely, the good fortune of our neighbor. It is furthermore unreasonable because it brings nothing to the person guilty of it, except misery, annoyance, and discontent.

C. That it is a sin against the Holy Ghost, an offense against the goodness of God, in so far as it draws evil out of good, while the Good God always draws good out of evil. It is a twisting and perversion of the divine plan, as we see in the very beginning of the human race:
"For God created man incorruptible and to the image of likeness He made him.
"But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world:
"And they follow him that are of his side." Wisdom, 2:23-24.

D. That it is so subtle, so crafty, so active and yet so quiet that it hides its presence even from the person guilty of it. Envy is so low and so mean that it makes its possessor unwilling to admit its presence even to himself.
3. From its effects we can see that envy is one of the most dangerous of all sins:
A. From envy proceed blindness of mind, errors in judgment, and hardness of heart. We see proofs of this in both the Old and the New Testaments:
i. We see it in the story of Joseph who, through the envy of his brothers, was sold by them and carried off into Egypt. Their father, Jacob, loved Joseph above all his sons. This they could not stand, and as the Bible tells us:

"His brethren seeing that he was loved by his father, more than all his sons, hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him." Genesis, 37:4.

ii. We see envy in all its evil ill-will in the story of Jesus before Pilate, an incident which comes forcibly to mind during this Lenten season. When the crowd asked Pilate to condemn Christ to death, he asked them:

"Do you wish that I release to you the king of the Jews?"

"For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him up out of envy.

"But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead." St. Mark, 15 :9-11.

Envy so blinded their thinking and twisted their judgment that they preferred a robber and cut-throat to the redeeming Christ.
B. From envy come sarcasm, backbiting, slander, calumny, and all the many-headed damages and injuries which arise from these sins.
i. Sarcasm is a mean and bitter taunt, a keen and cutting .remark. It tears the heart of its victim, as a vicious dog would tear the flesh of one he bites. Although every right-thinking person despises sarcasm, and rightly, we find too much of it especially in circles where we should expect to never find it - in the home, in our fellow workers, even in parish societies and affairs. Sarcasm springs from an envious heart. It betrays the sarcastic person as one guilty of this capital vice.

ii. Back-biting is just as common, and possibly more criminal. You know the type. Let's call her Mrs. A. When she talks to Mrs. B. she will always talk unkindly about Mrs. C., "bite" Mrs. C. in the back when she is not present. When Mrs. A. is with Mrs. C. she will talk about Mrs. B., "bite" her in the back. And you can wager your bottom dollar that she will talk about you when your back is turned. In this back-biting Mrs. A., reveals one symptom of an envious heart.
C. Envy causes devilish plots, cold-blooded murders, mean-minded treacheries, and public and private calamities of all kinds.
i. It was envy of God that made the evil one take form of a serpent and lead our parents into the first sin. Re-read that story:

"Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made. . .

"No," said the serpent to Eve, "you shall not die the death.

"For God knowa that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil." Genesis, 3:1-5.

ii. It was envy that provoked the first murder. Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, both made offerings to the Lord. The Lord "had respect" to the offerings of Abel, but not to those of Cain. In the heart of the latter sprang up a feeling of envy and anger. Cain invited Abel out into a field and there he slew him. (Genesis, 4:1-14).

iii. It was envy, blind unreasoning envy, that prompted a member of the Athenian assembly to vote for the banishment of Aristides the Just. According to the story, Aristides himself was present when the vote was taken. One illiterate member, who could neither read nor write. went up to Aristides, not knowing who he was, and asked him to write the name of Aristides on his shell to show that he wanted him banished. As Aristides wrote his own name on the ballot that was meant to send him into banishment, he asked the fellow If ho knew Aristides, or if he had anything against him.

"No," answered the ignorant and envious fellow, "I don't know him and I don't know anything about him, but I get tired of hearing him spoken of as Aristides the Great."
Behold the blindness and the bias and the bile of the envious.
D. Envy causes miserable repining at another's success. This we find in every walk of life, especially among those who are more or less equal, among those in the same class at school, in the same trade, in the same club, in the same profession, and in the same parish society. The good fortune of another, the election of another to some society office, the attainment of fame or fortune by someone who would he otherwise equal, causes the envious heart to feel and even to express dejection and discontent, makes him complain and grumble and even criticize.

E. Envy leads its victim to belittle the merits and accomplishment of others, again particularly of those in the same group.

"Yes," they will admit, "she is a good home-maker, but-." Inevitably there is a "but," in other words, some drawback, some point to belittle.
4. To fool and express sorrow over another's temporal or spiritual good not because we feel it harms our own interests, but for some other good reason, is not the sin of envy. Thus a person might feel sorry about another's prosperity or success entirely because he knew that this success would be harmful to the welfare of others or to the public at large. This would really be charity rather than envy. If one, for example, felt sorry when he saw a business man without principles, or a professional person who stooped to immoral practices, or a scheming politician, achieving goals beyond his deserts, it would not be envy to grieve about that success.

Furthermore, if a person is sad only because he himself does not have as much as another, and he seeks his own lawful advancement and not the harm of another, he does not commit the sin of envy. We might rather call it emulation, a striving to equal or excel another by just and lawful means. It is expressed in the spirit of big-hearted competition, which is good in every walk of life. In fact, this rightful rivalry is the spur to much of the progress in all fields of human endeavor. It is essential in the spiritual life, where we see before us almost constantly the inspiring example of the saints. Their example should inspire in us a desire to imitate, a desire to follow their cooperation with grace, their charity, their chastity, their zeal for the service of God.

5. To what ridiculous lengths envy can lead is shown in the fairy story of the shoemaker. He was not the ordinary run of cobbler. He was extra special, so much so that the fairies hired him to make their shoes. The only leather he used was cut from the skin of a snake killed the previous year. They were soft and comfortable and the fairies would wear no other kind. Wherever the fairies went they drew admiration and praise for their fine footwear.

Into the cobbler's heart came the thought that these fairy folk were getting all the attention, while he was doing the work. Envy led him into this trend of thought:
"Here I am slaving away at my last, bending over until my back is all out of shape, seldom seeing the sun, and never getting the glory for my work. It isn't fair. I know what I will do. I'll make myself a pair of the softest, shiniest shoes anyone ever wore, and then I'll strut out among the flowers and get some attention."
He put all the other pairs of shoes aside and worked day and night on his own. The fairies, from the king and queen on down, came for their shoes, but they were not ready. Gradually he lost his trade, but he cared not a bit. He was going to create a commotion. At last the shoes were finished. He put them on and started out.
"Land of mercy," cried his wife, "you are not going out in those gorgeous shoes with your leather apron on. Buy yourself a dress coat."
He bought a fine coat and was again about to start out when his wife screamed:
"Land sakes, now you need a cane."
He bought a cane and was strutting out the door when his wife burst into laughter:
"You silly man," she cried, "your top hat and new coat and cane and beautiful shoes do not hide your bent back. You are nothing but a dressed up shoemaker. Everybody will laugh at you, as I must laugh."
He took a look in the mirror and almost had to laugh at himself, as he admitted:
"What my wife says is true. I was a good shoemaker, but I make a poor fairy gentleman."
He had sense enough to admit his foolishness. He went home to his shoemaker's last, and left the bright shoes for more nimble feet.

Would that we all had sense enough to recognize envy when it shows its treacherous head. And would that we all might use the remedies to overcome this capital vice. If the Scribes and Pharisees, the principal enemies of Christ, had been honest enough with themselves they would have admitted their envy as the principal cause of their opposition to the Savior of the world. If all the envious hearts were revealed to the world what a disgusting display that would be. And if all envy were removed, how happy humanity would be.

6. What are the cures for this capital crime of the heart?
A. Ask God to give you a true spirit of love for everyone, a true, heart felt charity, especially toward those whom you envy. Try praying for those whose success makes you sad. Honestly ask God to help you see that various people have various gifts and blessings.

B. Consider the evils brought on by envy. They are all opposed to the fundamental law of Christ: Love one another. How can we love our neighbor if our minds are blinded with bias and our hearts are saddened at his success? How can we love our neighbor if we stoop to sarcasm, slander, back-biting and rash criticism? How can we love our neighbor when our hearts hatch plots to bring him harm? How can we love our neighbor with a heart that is sad when that neighbor succeeds? How can we love our neighbor when we belittle his work and efforts?

C. Consider, on the other hand, the happiness of a heart that is free of this hideous hatred. The heart free of envy is a heart at peace with itself and at peace with everyone else. It is a heart that is willing to do things for others, willing to live the law of love, even at the cost of sacrifice. It is a heart that is satisfied with its own lot in life, and never permits the good fortune of others to make it unhappy.

Consider the unhappiness of our shoemaker when his heart was envious, and his contented happiness after he had rooted envy out of his heart. Every human being can have that same blessed experience.

D. Share your joys and share your sorrows with others. Enter into the joys and sorrows of those with whom you live. Express your sympathy when they have difficulties; and express genuine congratulations, when they have success. This is something we can all develop, no matter how small the circle in which we move.

Oh, how Christ­like the person who can pay a compliment to one who has earned some merit or reward.

E. Realize that envy and pride are co-workers in evil, twin devils who destroy peace of the individual and peace of the community. Then try to develop a true sense of humility, the foundation of all true love of neighbor, the foundation of all true appreciation of the tal­ents, accomplishments, and good fortune of others.

F. Bring home to yourself with absolute conviction that money and success and fame are not everything. They are not the completely satisfying articles they appear to be at a distance. Much more valuable than these tinsel satisfactions are genuine love, true-blue friend­ship and inner contentment. The man who is satisfied with his own place in life, the man who can, at the same time, view with a smile the success of others, is a happy, yes, a successful man.
7. On November 11, 1950, a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer asked three people this question:

"What do you think is the best way to overcome jealousy?"
A. One young lady answered that the jealous and envious person must develop self-confidence, improve himself.

B. A young man said the best way is to analyze the situation, .delve down into the facts, and don't let emotions take control. He pointed out that the jealous and envious person lets his imagination and emotions run away with him.

C. A third gave this solution: Grow up; become mature, mentally and spiritually.

Our newspapers and magazines have a great deal about jealousy and envy, proving the importance of the subject.
8. Most important is this subject in the Church. Racial, social, and economic envy hamper and even halt many projects of the Church. One member of the choir envies another because she was chosen to sing a solo. Our society officers are often the object of green-eyed envy. Good work already done is torn apart, and good work to be done is never attempted, through fear of envy and its train of miserable evils.

9. Search your soul tonight. Be not blind to this hidden monster of envy. Think of the sufferings and death of our Lord, brought on by the envy of the Scribes and Pharisees. Look at the stations of the cross. See the torture to which envious hearts put the sweet and loving Savior of the world.

Then look into His loving Heart, opened to us on the cross, that Sacred Heart hrobbing with love for even His enemies, that Heart which was ever understanding and appreciative, that Divine Heart which was always glad at the good-fortune of others, that Heart which must be our Model if we ever hope to overcome the capital sin of envy, if we ever hope to be in very truth - like our Lord. Amen.
Adapted from Lent and the Capital Sins
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1952)

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