Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

In my continuing reflections on the seven capital sins, today I will discuss the deadly sin of envy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes envy as "sadness at the sight of another's goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin. ... Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility" (##2539-2540). Envy is contrary to the 10th Commandment, which says, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods."

A good biblical example of envy can be seen in the Old Testament in the Book of Samuel. When David was returning home after killing Goliath, we are told that "the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres. As they danced, they sang: 'Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.' Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. 'They have credited David with tens of thousands,' he thought, 'but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?' And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David" (1 Sam 18:6-9). Saul was so consumed with envy that he began plotting how to kill David. Thus we see how envy can give rise to murderous intent.

Envy is often confused with jealousy, but they are not the same. Envy is the desire to have something that someone else possesses and the resentment that results if it cannot be acquired. Jealousy is the fear of losing someone or something precious to another person, such as the transfer of a lover's affections to a rival.

The sinful root of envy is the lack of appreciation for God's gifts given uniquely to each individual person. It is also a discontent with what a person has. Envy also betrays a certain personal insecurity. Whatever we have never seems to be good enough. We have seen children wanting the toys of their playmates, but when they get the toy that their friend was playing with, they then want whatever new toy their friend has. Adults can also be very childish in this regard. The familiar expression of being "green with envy" springs from thinking that "the grass is always greener on the other side."

A contemporary example of envy is the push for same-sex marriage. While the promiscuous behavior of the "gay" lifestyle is an example of the deadly sin of lust, the quest for "same-sex marriage" is based on envy, that is, the desire to have something that someone else has but which is essentially unattainable. While the proponents of the redefinition of marriage use the rhetoric of equality and fairness, the motive in reality is the envious objective to attain something that two people of the same sex cannot have, since marriage by natural definition is the union of a man and a woman.

My decision to forbid members of the Rainbow Sash movement from praying the rosary in our cathedral for the intention of same-sex marriage was based on the fact that it would be blasphemous to pray for something that is sinful. On the other hand, people are always welcome to come to our cathedral and our churches to confess their sins and ask for God's forgiveness. This is what Christianity is all about: to have a change of heart (which we call conversion), to repent our sins, to acknowledge that Christ died for our sins, and thus we are redeemed and saved.

St. Augustine saw envy as "the diabolical sin." St. Gregory the Great wrote, "From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity."

The best antidote to envy is the great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. If we truly love our neighbor, we are happy when others are successful and share in their joy when they experience good fortune. If we truly love ourselves, then we are content with what God has given us. We are also grateful for these gifts and talents. An attitude of gratitude keeps the deadly sin of envy in check.

St. John Chrysostom counseled that we learn to overcome envy in this way: "Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother's progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised."

May God give us this grace. Amen.