Sunday, February 3, 2013
Homily on Envy and Jealousy: Fr. Andersen
A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, OR
Feb 3rd, 2013 Dominica IV Per Annum, Anno C
“If I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2).
Faith, Hope, and Charity: these three are called the Theological virtues. The greatest of these three is charity. St. Ambrose of Milan comments on today’s gospel and he contrasts charity with envy. He says that the people in the synagogue had no joy in Christ’s charitable works among others. Rather, they were envious of His good works performed for the people of Capernaum. Why would he not perform any good works for them, His own people, in His own country? St. Ambrose writes: “in vain can you expect the aid of Divine mercy, if you grudge to others the fruits of their virtue. The Lord despises the envious, and withdraws the miracles of His power from them that are jealous of His divine blessings in others” (Aquinas. Catena Aurea).
This brings up the question: What exactly do we mean by envy? Is envy the same as jealousy? No, it is not. Envy is different. So, how does envy differ from jealousy? Let’s look at an example: Jealousy means that you want something that someone else has. Your neighbor just bought a new car. You are jealous because you would like a new car. You do not hate your neighbor for getting a new car, but within yourself, you are discontented. You are not satisfied with the things that God has given you. You want what another person has. It is a distraction from growing closer to God. It is a love of worldly things rather than heavenly things.
Envy is similar but different. Envy involves jealousy but envy takes things a big step forward. Here is an example: Your high school classmate is popular, a good athlete, big muscles, lots of money and all the girls swoon over him. If you are jealous of him, you will want what he has. You will not be content with the special gifts that God has given you. Instead you will dwell upon this other person and what he has. But. . . if you are envious of him, you will dwell upon imaginary scenarios in which he breaks his leg and has to sit out of the game for the rest of the season. Then you imagine that his girlfriend breaks up with him and turns all his friends against him. Finally, you take delight in the thought that maybe his father loses his job and then this classmate will be poor, unpopular, and a terrible athlete…just like you.
Envy wants what another person has and wants it to be taken away from that other person. Envy is cruel because it desires that another person should be miserable. It involves revenge. Movies love to portray this: At the high school reunion the ladies stand around taking delight in the fact that the most beautiful and popular girl in high school is now fat, divorced, and on welfare. That is cruel.
That kind of cruel and evil behavior is what we see in today’s gospel: Jesus wants the people to open their hearts and take joy in his good works done for others. He reminds them that prophets have historically given attention to those even outside the chosen people. He recalls the fact that in the time of the great prophets Elijah and Elisha, these prophets performed miracles among the gentiles. Now Jesus is doing the same thing. The people should rejoice, but instead they are envious. They wish to take revenge on Jesus. They drive Him out of the synagogue and up to the crest of the mountain where they intend to kill him. But His hour has not yet come. He passes through their midst.
We must counter envy with charity. Charity is a theological virtue. Charity is also a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It must be practiced. But if a person has practiced envy for some time, then that behavior will become like second nature. It becomes a vice that can destroy that person’s eternal soul. Envy is among the Cardinal or Capital Sins. It is among the worst of sins. We cannot tolerate it in ourselves. We must hate and detest sin. We must do everything in our power to avoid such sin. But our own power is not enough. If you or someone you love struggles with the sin of envy, come to Confession. Confess it! Break it! Do not endanger your salvation by tolerating something so grave.
There is a particular danger in this day and age for Catholics in the United States to be envious of other Christians because other Christians are not facing the same persecution that Catholics are facing. To be Catholic in the United States today means that you will be marginalized. You will have fewer rights than other people simply because of your religion. You might find yourself being jealous of people who are not being targeted and persecuted for their faith. You might even find yourself envious, begrudging others because they seem to have things easy, wishing that they too would be persecuted. But we must be very careful with such thoughts and refrain from speaking them. We must never wish evil or hardship on another person. We must certainly never wish evil on someone who is innocent. And. . . we must never wish evil on someone who has harmed us. Revenge, envy, unforgiveness: these three have no place in a Christian’s life.
But Faith, Hope, and Charity: these three are the theological virtues and the greatest of these is Charity. With the help of the Holy Spirit, let us all cultivate this precious fruit called Charity so that as we restore our souls to a state of sanctifying grave through a good sacramental Confession, we learn to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit to break the vice of envy. Envy sought the life of Jesus Christ. Let us not choose that side of the battle. Let us not battle against God but choose instead to battle against the devil with God on our side!