Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Envy A Capital Sin

When we Catholics begin our instruction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we learn about and are given warning to be on guard against the Seven Deadly Sins, which are pride, avarice, lust, anger, envy, sloth, and gluttony.

I am going to discuss the capital sin known as “envy”. Let me begin, by giving a definition of the word “envy”: wanting what somebody else has; the resentful or unhappy feeling of wanting somebody else’s success, good fortune, qualities, or possessions. Also, here are a few synonyms for envy as well as also being faults or sins that envy can lead to: jealousy, greed, bitterness, resentment, and spite.

As we can see from the above definitions and synonyms, envy is not something that any of us should desire, harbor within us, or allow to fester and grow, because fester and grow is what envy does, and can only lead to more sin, and more serious sin at that.

Let me be clear, it is never wrong to see an achievement, a quality, a good virtue in our neighbor that we desire for ourselves, and then to go and emulate what they have done to better ourselves. Indeed, are we as Christians not called to emulate Our Lord Jesus Christ and strive to achieve His example of perfection in love, faith, hope, and charity? For if we do not try to emulate His example, what He taught, what He lived, and what He did, and is still doing for us, then we have nothing, and we are nothing no matter what our status in life, our position in our communities, or in our hope to achieve His Kingdom. If we have envy, then we have no faith, we have no hope, and we most certainly have no charity. If we have no charity, then we can have no love, and if we have none of these virtues as taught to us by Christ and the Apostles and as handed down to us for our instruction and edification by the Church, then we deny Christ, and His example, and His sacrifice for us all. If we say that we are Christian, and we envy our neighbor for whatever he or she has or does, then we live in complete hypocrisy. Indeed, to envy one's brother or sister, is to hate him or her. For as Saint John the Apostle tells us in his Epistle 1 John 2:9-11: “Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

For us to have envy can only lead to other vices and sin. Envy leads to detraction, and hatred, as Pope Saint Gregory the Great said far better than I can: “From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.” Do you envy your neighbor? For envy violates the Tenth Commandment: “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor's. You shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.” In paragraph 2539 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, it states: “Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the 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...”

So, what do we envy about our neighbor? Their wealth? Their home? Their friends? Their position? When we are envious we do harm to ourselves, and not to the one who is the object of our envy. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and that where our treasures lie, so do our hearts lie. We can not be so caught up in the world, that we forget our true home, and our true salvation. What salvation is there to be found in wealth, position, status, houses, or popularity? None. As Saint Augustine said: “God bestows more consideration on the purity of the intention with which our actions are performed than on the actions themselves.” What purity is there in envy? Augustine also said: “The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?”

As long as I am quoting from Saints like Augustine, and Gregory the Great, let us see what other great saints of the Church have to say about envy. For they certainly can say it far better than I ever could:

“It was through jealousy and envy that the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and struggled unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good apostles. First of all, Peter, who because of unreasonable jealousy, suffered not merely once or twice but many times, and, having thus given his witness, went to the place of glory that he deserved. It was through jealousy and conflict that Paul showed the way to the prize for perseverance. He was put in chains seven times, sent into exile, and stoned; a herald both in the east and the west, he achieved a noble fame by his faith. He taught justice to all the world and, when he had reached the limits of the western world, he gave his witness before those in authority; then he left this world and was taken up into the holy place, a superb example of endurance. Around these men with their holy lives there gathered a great throng of the elect, who, though victims of jealousy, gave us the finest example of endurance in the midst of many indignities and tortures. We are writing this, beloved, not only for your admonition but also as a reminder to ourselves; for we are placed in the same arena, and the same contest lies before us. Hence we ought to put aside vain and useless concerns and should consider what is good, pleasing and acceptable in the sight of him who made us. Let us fix our gaze on the blood of Christ, realizing how precious it is to his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.”

--Pope Saint Clement I from a letter to the Corinthians

“Envy is a gnawing pain which springs from the success and prosperity of another; and this is the reason why the envious are never exempt from trouble and vexation. If an abundant harvest fills the granaries of a neighbor, if success crowns his efforts, the envious man is chagrined and sad. If one man can boast of prudence, talent, and eloquence; if another is rich, and is very liberal to the poor, if good works are praised by all around, the envious man is shocked and grieved. The envious, however, dare not speak; although envy makes them counterfeit gladness, their hearts are sore within. If you ask him what vexes him, he dare not tell the reason. It is not really the happiness of his friend that annoys him, neither is it his gaiety that makes him sad, nor is he sorry to see his friend prosper; but it is that he is persuaded that the prosperity of others is the cause of his misery. This is what the envious would be forced to acknowledge, if they spoke the truth sincerely; but because they dare not confess so shameful a sin, they, in secret, feed a sore which tortures them and eats away their rest. As the shadow ever accompanies the pedestrian when walking in the sun, so envy throws its shadow on those who are successful in the world.”

--Saint Basil the Great from "De Individia"

“You who are envious, let me tell you that however often you may seek for the opportunity of injuring him whom you hate, you will never be able to do him so much harm as you do harm to yourselves. He whom you would punish through the malice of your envy, may probably escape, but you will never be able to fly from yourselves. Wherever you may be your adversary is with you, your sin rankles within. It must be a self-willed evil to persecute a person whom God has taken under the protection of His grace; it becomes an irremediable sin to hate a man whom God wishes to make happy. Envy is as prolific as it is hurtful; it is the root of all evil, the source of endless disorder and misery, the cause of most sins that are committed. Envy gives birth to hatred and animosity. From it avarice is begotten, for it sees with an evil eye honors and emoluments heaped upon a stranger, and thinks that such honors should have been, by right, bestowed upon himself. From envy comes contempt of God, and of the salutary precepts of our Savior. The envious man is cruel, proud, unfaithful, impatient, and quarrelsome; and, what is strange, when this vice gains the mastery, he is no longer master of himself, and he is unable to correct his many faults. If the bond of peace is broken, if the rights of fraternal charity are violated, if truth is altered or disguised, it is often envy that hurries him on to crime. What happiness can such a man enjoy in this world? To be envious or jealous of another, because such a one is virtuous and happy, is to hate in him the graces and blessings God has showered down upon him. Does he not punish himself when he sees the success and welfare of others? Does he not draw down upon himself tortures from which there is no respite? Are not his thoughts, his mind, constantly on the rack? He pitilessly punishes himself, and, in his heart, performs the same cruel office which Divine Justice reserves for the chastisement of the greatest criminal.”

--Saint Cyprian of Carthage

“O envious one, you injure yourself more than he whom you would injure, and the sword with which you wound will recoil and wound yourself. What harm did Cain do to Abel? Contrary to his intention he did him the greatest good, for he caused him to pass to a better and a blessed life, and he himself was plunged into an abyss of woe. In what did Esau injure Jacob? Did not his envy prevent him from being enriched in the place in which he lived; and, losing the inheritance and the blessing of his father, did he not die a miserable death? What harm did the brothers of Joseph do to Joseph, whose envy went so far as to wish to shed his blood? Were they not driven to the last extremity, and well-nigh perishing with hunger, whilst their brother reigned all through Egypt? It is ever thus; the more you envy your brother, the greater good you confer upon him. God, who sees all, takes the cause of the innocent in hand, and, irritated by the injury you inflict, deigns to raise up him whom you wish to lower, and will punish you to the full extent of your crime. If God usually punishes those who rejoice at the misfortunes of their enemies, how much more will He punish those who, excited by envy, seek to do an injury to those who have never injured them?”

--Saint John Chrysostom

“We fight one another, and envy arms us against one another. . . . If everyone strives to unsettle the Body of Christ, where shall we end up? We are engaged in making Christ's Body a corpse. . . . We declare ourselves members of one and the same organism, yet we devour one another like beasts.”

--Saint John Chrysostom

“It should be our principal business to conquer ourselves and, from day to day, to go on increasing in strength and perfection. Above all, however, it is necessary for us to strive to conquer our little temptations, such as fits of anger, suspicions, jealousies, envy, deceitfulness, vanity, attachments, and evil thoughts. For in this way we shall acquire strength to subdue greater ones.”

--Saint Francis de Sales

“Virtues are formed by prayer. Prayer preserves temperance. Prayer suppresses anger. Prayer prevents emotions of pride and envy. Prayer draws into the soul the Holy Spirit, and raises man to Heaven.”

--Saint Ephraem of Syria


Prayer to Be Freed of the Seven Deadly Sins

O meek Savior and Prince of Peace,
implant in me the virtues
of gentleness and patience.
Let me curb the fury of anger
and restrain all resentment and impatience
so as to overcome evil with good,
attain Your peace, and rejoice in Your love

O Model of humility,
divest me of all pride and arrogance.
Let me acknowledge my weakness and sinfulness,
so that I may bear mockery and contempt
for Your sake
and esteem myself as lowly in Your sight.

O Teacher of abstinence,
help me to serve You rather than our appetites.
Keep me from gluttony
the inordinate love of food and drink
and let me hunger and thirst for Your justice.

O Lover of purity,
remove all lust from my heart,
so that I may serve You with a pure mind
and a chaste body.

O Father of the poor,
help me to avoid all covetousness for earthly goods
and give me a love for heavenly things.
Inspire me to give to the needy,
just as You gave Your life
that I might inherit eternal treasures.

O Exemplar of love,
keep me from all envy and ill-will.
Let the grace of Your love dwell in me
that I may rejoice in the happiness of others
and bewail their adversities.

O zealous Lover of souls,
keep me from all sloth of mind or body.
Inspire me with zeal for Your glory,
so that I may do all things for You and in You.


© Copyright 2008 Steve Smith. All rights reserved.

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