Battling Envy: A Personal Tale

As a Catholic, I bring my sins to God, but also to a priest in the confessional. It’s hard to swallow the pride and go, but it’s a very healing thing to hear the words of absolution as the priest acts in persona Christi. But this isn’t a biblical and church father explanation of confession, though confession truly is a miraculous gift of Grace left by Christ.

No, this is about a new sin in the confessional, at least a new one for me to bring. I suspect it isn’t confessed very often though. Either it hasn’t plagued me before, or I never really learned to recognize it until recently: Envy.

Let me make a distinction between envy and jealousy. Jealousy can motivate me to work hard because I too can have good. I can be jealous of the deep faith of a holy person, and strive to imitate them. On the other hand, Envy (as define by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Damascene) is sorrow for another’s good. Conversely, it is closely related to the German word “schadenfreude” or joy at another’s misfortune.

So as it turns out, I’ve discovered a real envious streak in 2016. It’s not all the time, but it comes up from time to time. I’ll see a beautiful home that’s way out of my budget, or think about the house that “got away”… with too many looming repairs, but seemed perfect. Perhaps it’s a nice car – not flashy, just not a maintenance pit. Maybe I see somebody that looks like they’ve got a very happy family, or is doing a good job providing for their spouse or family’s needs.

So what to do?
Another thing you sometimes get in the confessional is great advice. My parish has a great confessor (or if the term is more to your sensibilities: spiritual director, though not officially yet). His advice: when my mind wanders from where I want it, repeat the names of “Jesus, Mary and Joseph”. It works for envy, lust, anger, or even just a wandering mind when you’re trying to pray. It seems to work surprisingly well.

The truth is, I know my worth isn’t wrapped up in things like a house or car; that my identity isn’t my job or my ability to provide, but there’s an understanding I haven’t reached internally (consistently).

So I say to you: You are not what you do, where you live, or what you drive.

Just yesterday, I was reflecting that the root of envy is fear. That deep fear we all sometimes have that says “I’m not good enough, not lovable.” I’ve got another post in development about love – but surely you know that the fear is a lie. So how to combat it?

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… (1 John 4:18)

The opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And against the backdrop of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Bishop Robert Barron would also point to admiration as a virtue to help cure us. Also, be careful in your use of social media, especially Facebook. Finally, as Bishop Barron suggests, exercise the virtue of admiration: praise those you would envy, in person or to someone about them.

1 Comment

  1. Margaret Kjeldgaard

    Thank you for you thoughts it is helpful in clearly ing my own to perform a good confession. I struggle often and think more people than you think so as well. God Bless your efforts.


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