Hell came into existence because of the pride and envy of Lucifer and his followers. Lucifer envied God’s perfection and authority over him. He also envied the happiness of our first parents and did everything in his power to alienate them from God.
Because of our fallen human nature, we all desire respect, praise, honor, and glory. We become envious of others who possess gifts or qualities that we don’t possess. Envy occurs when we focus on ourselves rather than on others. It can spread like a virus and infect groups of people and entire nations.
Fr. John A. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines envy as:
Sadness or discontent at the excellence, good fortune, or success of another person. It implies that one considers oneself somehow deprived by what one envies in another or even that an injustice has been done. Essential to envy is this sense of deprivation. Consequently it is not merely sadness that someone else has some desirable talent or possession, nor certainly the ambition to equal or surpass another person, which can be laudable emulation.
Envy differs from jealousy in that jealousy consists of an excessive love of our own good combined with fear that we will be deprived of it by others. A person who is jealous is unwilling to share with someone else the natural and supernatural gifts that he or she possesses.
In his book Victory Over Vice (originally published in 1939), Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said,
If envy is on the increase today, as it undoubtedly is, it is because of the surrender of the belief of a future life and righteous divine justice. If this life is all, they think they should have all. From that point on, envy of others becomes their rule of life.
We know from the Old Testament that as a result of envy, Cain murdered his brother, Abel; the brothers of Joseph threw him into a well and sold him into slavery (because he was favored by his father); and, despite the fact that Saul was a king, he sought to murder David (because of David’s success and popularity).
When two women claimed they were the mother of the same baby, King Solomon proved his extraordinary wisdom when he declared, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.” One of the women cried out, “I beseech thee, my lord, give her the child alive, and do not kill it.” The other woman said, “Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.” (3 Kings 3:25-26) It was because of the envy of the woman whose child had died that she wanted to deprive the mother of her child. Her envy was revealed when she reacted to King Solomon’s declaration, and he subsequently turned the child over to his real mother.
It was Christ who warned about the dangers of envy in the parable of the laborers. He told the story about how the owner of a vineyard hired laborers at five different times during the same day, the last one at the eleventh hour, just before sunset. Each of the five groups of laborers received the same wage for the day. When the laborers who had worked the entire day complained, Christ responded:
Friend, I do you no injustice. Did you not agree with me for one denarius? Take what is yours and go. I choose to give to this last, even as to you. Have I not a right to do what I choose, or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:13-15)
When some of his apostles started quarrelling after becoming envious over who would be the greatest, Jesus placed a child in their midst and reminded them that the only people who were going to enter into His Kingdom were those who were as simple as children. (Matthew 18:1-3)
In his book Victory Over Vice, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen described the role envy played in the persecution and death of Jesus Christ:
Pilate was envious of His power; Annas was envious of His innocence; Caiphas was envious of His popularity; Herod was envious of His moral superiority; the scribes and Pharisees were envious of His wisdom. Each of these had built his judgment seat of mock moral superiority in which to sentence Morality to the Cross. And in order that he might no longer be a person to be envied, they reputed Him with the wicked.
One or more of the following attributes can be found in a person who succumbs to envy: discord, hatred, malicious joy, backbiting, detraction, jealousy, slander, spitefulness, teasing, petty persecution, splitting of friends, imputing of evil motives, joy at others’ sorrows, and/or boredom when others are praised.
There are five primary consequences of envy:
1. Disdain or hatred of the envied person.
2. Criticism in the mind, speech, or writing of the envied person.
3. Slander of the envied person’s character.
4. Resentment of the envied person’s intelligence, gifts, possessions, relationships, success, or achievements.
5. Joy at the misfortune of or adversity experienced by the envied person.
The person whose primary fault is envy uses it to make himself look good, make others look bad, and inflict hurt or harm on others. In conversations, he is able to quickly identify areas of his life where he has an advantage over the person he is talking to. He then proceeds to make the person he is talking to feel inadequate by bragging and asking questions that highlight the fact that he has something the other person doesn’t have. He is never truly happy because there is always someone else who has something he desires but does not possess.
There are two key virtues that act as the antidote to envy – charity and admiration. These virtues can be practiced by:
• Developing the habit of thanking God for the gifts of the person you are tempted to envy;
• Acting kindly, generously, and lovingly toward the person you are tempted to envy;
• Speaking well of the person you are tempted to envy, especially when others are saying negative things about the person;
• Identifying admirable traits in the person you are tempted to envy, and seeking to emulate those traits;
• Praying for the people you are tempted to envy; and
• Cultivating the habit of thinking of eternal life in heaven where love abounds and no one has any animosity toward or envy of anyone else.
Next week I’ll cover the primary fault of gluttony.