For the next seven weeks, I’m going to be running a series on the seven capital sins or, more popularly known as the seven deadly sins. I listen to a podcast called “Pints with Aquinas” by Matt Fradd and, last week, he ran a two-part series where he went over the seven capital sins. He used the works of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Gregory the Great, a pope that lived during the 6th and early part of the 7th century. We often think of these ancient people as being not quite as smart as us today, however, when listening to their words, I am always struck by their wisdom, thoughtfulness, and contemplation of these weighty issues. I thought they were a great couple of podcasts and because they got me thinking so much, I decided to write about it to flesh out my thoughts even more. We don’t talk enough about sin, because we minimize it, rationalize it away, or even condone it. Our pride (one of the seven deadly sins) tells us that we don’t need to look at ourselves, in fact, we can’t stand examining ourselves at all. It’s uncomfortable, but sin should make us uncomfortable. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we have gotten–to quote Pink Floyd–“comfortably numb” to sin. Envy is the first sin I will cover. I hope these blogs make you think and challenge you.
Envy is one of the capital sins that I readily recognize as a struggle for me. Every time I see a military spouse posting online about their next move, I get envious. It’s especially bad if they are moving overseas. Our family hasn’t been stationed overseas and I get incredibly envious of those who have lived there or who are on their way for the big adventure across the pond.
I, also, notice that I get envious if anyone is gaining more schooling or knowledge than me. I have a Master’s degree, so it’s not like I haven’t even been to school, but I get this envious twinge in my bones when I see others getting advanced degrees. It’s as if I don’t want anyone to be smarter than me, which is ridiculous, but Envy whispers, “What if you fall behind and they are held up as a superior intellect? What then?”
*St. Gregory the Great had this to say about envy:
“Envy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, is if with reason, when it says, ‘In what art thou inferior to this or that person? Why then art thou not either equal or superior to them? What great things art thou able to do, which they are not able to do! They ought not then to be either superior, or even equal, to thyself.'”
What he is saying in more modern language is this: Envy is in the habit of strongly encouraging the conquered heart, as if with reason, to ask oneself, “How am I inferior to that person?! Why am I not equal or superior to them? What great things can I do that they cannot? They should not be superior or even equal to myself!”
These are the exact things I subconsciously ask myself. “Why is that family getting to go overseas and mine isn’t getting that experience? How dare they! What will it mean if that friend gets an advanced degree? Will I look not as educated? Will they be seen as an expert and not me?”
What usually follows from this is that I can’t even be happy for these people. Oh sure, I’ll pretend happiness, but internally, I’m a tortured mess. What makes me most sad about this sin is that because I can’t be happy for another’s success, I am not loving them right. In fact, I’m not really loving them at all. Love wills the good of another. If I’m sneering and seething over another’s good fortune or success, I’m not willing their good.
St. Gregory the Great says that envy brings with it other sins: Hatred, whispering, detraction, exultation at the misfortunes of a neighbor, and affliction at his prosperity.
This is so true. When envy takes root in our souls, these things come with it. We come to hate others or things, which robs us of joy. We whisper or gossip about them trying to bring them down a notch in our eyes. We are secretly gleeful when something goes badly for them. When something good does happen in their life, we are afflicted with inner turmoil and unrest.
I’m guilty of all these things. I don’t like the feeling envy creates in my soul. I don’t like being envious of people that I love or even people that I barely know. But, I can’t fix this about myself if I don’t call it out and own the fact that this is a sin that is very real to me. I’ve found that envy robs my joy. When I’m envious of another’s military move, I can’t even appreciate and enjoy the place that I’m stationed. I struggle to live in the present and am always thinking of what I’m missing out on or what could be mine. It steals my gratitude and peace.
Thankfully, God always gives us a way to battle sin. Each sin is in direct opposition to a virtue or a few virtues. Envy is in direct opposition to kindness. If we practice virtue, eventually we can smother sin. If I strive to be kind, it may be hard at first, but as I practice it and pray for strength to live it out, God will give me the actual grace I need to do that. The more you practice something, the easier it becomes and soon it becomes the way we live.
Envy is one of the things I confess frequently. When I have to call out my sin in front of the priest, it makes it forces it in front of my face. I feel like such a clout when I say, “I couldn’t be happy for a friend’s success. I found myself envious of her and it created this bitterness in my heart.” Yet, after the words of absolution, I’m not weighed down by that sin anymore. I’m free to change that part of myself and strive for kindness in my life. A soul full of kindness feels so much better. It directly causes me to love better and feel more joy. It gives me the peace to genuinely smile at my friends and family and be authentically happy for them. I do love these people and I want to give them the best of me.
*The Book of the Morals by St. Gregory the Great; Book XXXI. www.lectionarycentral.com/GregoryMoralia/Book31.html