Overcoming Envy

The Seven Deadly Sins are the focus of this year’s Novena of Grace in honor of St. Francis Xavier being celebrated at the church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul.  For those unfamiliar with them, the seven deadly sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

The focus of last evening’s talk, given by Fr. Paul Lickteig, S.J., was on envy, a feeling we all experience to greater and lesser degrees and with greater or lesser frequency, yet it is one we rarely acknowledge or discuss.

Envy is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “sadness at the sight of another’s goods.” It is often talked about at sadness at another’s joy and joy at another’s sadness. St. Augustine called envy “the diabolical sin.”

The drama that envy can create in human relationships is one we see over and over again in the Bible and in literary works of fiction.  Cain (to use the example Fr. Paul used in his talk) is consumed with envy for his brother Abel because God favored Abel’s offering over his own. And so Cain kills his brother.  Isaac so favors his son Joseph that the brothers consider killing him, but settle for selling him into slavery.  The elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son is filled with envy and resentment when his father so rejoices at the return of the prodigal son, and so won’t join in the festivities.

How do we counter envy?  Fr. Paul suggested a couple of things.

First, gratitude, which is part of the Ignatian Examen many of us pray daily.  When I know that all I am and all I have is gift from a loving God, envy will arise less naturally.  Deepening our apprehension of God’s love makes an enormous difference.  Although I’m sure I’m not quoting him exactly, Fr. Paul expressed the simple truth that recognizing God’s love, t what I am now is enough, and what I will be becomes possible.

Second, we need to remember that we are part of the Body of Christ, and that we are collectively about manifesting God’s kingdom.  If we put our focus on the fulfillment of God’s plan, then another’s gifts become a cause for rejoicing, not envy.  Fr. Paul’s  comments called to mind St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians that we are many parts but one body and all are necessary and important.  God gave each of us different gifts so that collectively we can take our place in God’s plan of salvation.

Envy arises easily, but we can, with practice and prayer, combat it.

For friends in the Twin Cities: the Novena of Grace continues through Sunday.  Join us at St. Thomas More for the remaining sessions if you can.