By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
In an address to the people of Rome early in his pontificate, Pope Francis said, “A jealous heart is a bitter heart, a heart that instead of blood seems to have vinegar.” He also noted that jealousy is the root cause of much violence in the world, saying, “It is the beginning of war. War does not begin on the battlefield: wars begin in the heart, with this misunderstanding, division, envy, with this fighting among each other.”
Francis’ grave warning about the dangers of envy and jealousy echoes the centuries-old proscription against this sin, which is considered one of the seven deadly sins due to the corruption it causes the human soul. We must fight against the impulse to envy others in order to free ourselves from the hatred it sows within our hearts.
The Christophers’ News Note “Overcoming Envy and Jealousy” recounts a story told by the prophet Nathan in the Second Book of Samuel. Nathan tells of a rich man who had many flocks and herds of animals but who became envious of a poor man who had only one lamb. The rich man’s disordered passions led him to steal the poor man’s lamb in order to slaughter it for a feast. What a poignant story demonstrating the irrationality of the sin of jealousy.
In contrast to the materialism that leads to envy and jealousy, Christ calls us to embrace a spirit of poverty, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) The poor man in Nathan’s story embodies this spirit. He cherished the one lamb he had been blessed with and treated it with great care. Instead of envying the poor man, the rich man would have done well to emulate him, but his materialism would not allow him to be grateful to God for the many gifts he had been given.
Aside from fostering gratitude to God, poverty of spirit also frees us to appreciate the gifts that others have been given because we are not consumed by comparing ourselves to them. How wonderful it is to be free from the sin of envy so that we might delight in the happiness of our neighbor. Christ calls us to abandon materialism in favor of a radical trust in the providence of God, saying, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:28-29)
In our efforts to overcome the discord that results from jealousy, we can pray for the intercession of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, who is the patroness of victims of adultery, jealousy and unfaithfulness. She suffered from false accusations as a result of her husband’s jealousy and also bore much pain due to his unfaithfulness to her. Elizabeth’s response was to simply live a holy life, inspiring those around her and eventually winning the conversion of her husband. Her story demonstrates how to overcome the hate that results from envy and jealousy. We must begin by forgiving because forgiveness unburdens us from hatred so that we might live lives of joy.
Joy unburdened by envy and jealousy is the reward that awaits all who let go of their own cares and trust in the providence of God. It is a joy we can carry into the world with confidence, clothed like the lilies of the field in the love of God.
Father Ed Dougherty is a member of The Christophers’ Board of Directors
For free copies of the Christopher News Note OVERCOMING ENVY AND JEALOUSY, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org