Envy: A Big Obstacle to Loving our Neighbor
Have you ever daydreamed about winning the lottery? Or perhaps having superpowers as a child? Maybe you’ve thought of having a classic car or some possession, or watched “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous in the 80s.” I know I’ve certainly had daydreams about such things, or maybe being like my favorite athlete growing up. And I still buy a lottery ticket every so often.
Sometimes though those daydreams can turn into a nightmare, a cycle of perpetual jealousy towards other people we know in our families or communities. We call this sin envy.
This weekend in our Gospel, we have the story of the day laborers who each are brought into the vineyard to work, some longer at the start of the day to the finish, some only an hour or two at the end of the day, but all are paid the same. The ones who worked longer grumble, but they aren’t cheated; they are still given a fair day’s pay. The owner of the vineyard asks them if they are envious.
So what to do with envy?
The first step is doing a good examination of conscience and identifying it. If we are blind to envy, it’ll just continue to grow. We can identify it if we are going beyond jealousy; maybe we find ourselves putting down someone all the time, and deep down it’s perhaps because they can do something or have more possessions than us. Maybe we will find we are preoccupied with getting more attention than someone else (e.g, recognition for our garden, yard, cooking, etc.) Or becoming obsessed with having more money one day than someone. Or disliking someone for no particular reason, maybe even saying some not-so-nice things about them. With some introspection, we can tell if we are becoming miserable because of envy and if it’s taking up too much time.
We can then pray about it, or bring it to confession too. A confessor can give good advice, and we can often find peace in prayer to move past it.
Then, we can come up with concrete steps dealing with the person we are envious towards. This entails praying for them; talking to them; maybe doing something nice for them; trying to force ourselves to give them a compliment or congratulations or praise for their gifts.
It’s also worthwhile to develop a team mentality. As I mentioned in last week’s homily referring to the Gospel, God loves us all the same, for God is love. All of us are on God’s team; we are workers in the vineyard. In sports, most people couldn’t tell you the names of the middle relievers in baseball or offensive line guys in football save for the people who really follow the game. But many might talk about the quarterback’s throw or the home run that was hit. But it wasn’t the individual who won, it was the team. As we say “Our” Father not “My Father,” we have to remember teamwork matters. Yes, we have an individual relationship with God that is unique. But we all want to make the world a better place, and love one another. So rather than enjoying the downfall of a rival or someone we’re envious of, maybe we can try to be thankful for the good things they bring to the world.
At the same time though, let’s not get down on ourselves. God made you and me, and we are here for a reason. Each of us has talents; so we need to look at what we’ve been given, and recognize that it helps the world in it’s own way. All of us can glorify God. Maybe we are not millionaires or superstar athletes, but God has given us gifts. Maybe make a list of the blessings in your life, and consider the many good things you have done for others.
Lastly, we can embrace humility. Just look some of our amazing saints who did this. There’s Saint Andre Bessette, a humble brother who spent most of his time as a porter and laundry worker at a monastery for 40 years; Saint Martin de Porres, the “saint of the broom” often seen in icons holding a broom, who worked as a monastery servant in Peru; unable at the time to become a full fledged religious because of racist laws prohibiting it, as he was of African and Native American descent; and Saint Therese of Lisieux, known as the “Little Flower” who embraced the “Little Way,” realizing she might not do “great things” in the eyes of the world, but would do little things with great love. All of these did people did incredible things with their lives to make this world better. But they didn’t seek out recognition or prestige; they truly emptied themselves like Jesus, and so should we.
As with last week when I spoke a bit about anger, note feeling jealous every so often is not a sin. You can’t help but feel emotions. But what does one do with that? If it leads to tearing someone down or disliking someone simply because they are better at something or have more than we do (at least to our eyes, for we never know the full story) then that can be where envy is kicking in. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others, but what good is that? Envy can often mix in with wrath too and cause such division and hate. Let’s not worry if the other person gets greater recognition in the eyes of the world or the family or workplace. Rather let’s together focus on building up God’s kingdom, realizing that what ultimately matters is love of God and one another, and making this world a better place, doing so to bring about God’s glory rather than our own.
Have a blessed week!
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