Victims of Envy

(Homily for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday, Year B)

Aristotle said that the power which distinguishes us as human beings is our ability to imitate.* Compared to us, animals have a quite limited capacity. For example, by imitation a child almost effortlessly learns the grammar and vocabulary of a language. Where I served in Peru, little children not only could speak Spanish, but Aymara - a complex Indian language. And they could go from one to the other without confusing the two. Just like children here who have Vietnamese or Mexican parents. By the power of imitation we master languages – and with them an entire culture which includes ways of eating, dressing, relaxing and relating to others.

In learning languages and cultures we put our power of imitation to good use. However, it can also be used very badly. For example, children see adults smoking and desire to do the same. On television they watch humorous characters talking with little respect - and they imitate them. Television reaches remote corners of the world with images of clothes styles, fancy cars, beautiful homes, etc. The people see it and want the same. The desire may not be negative in itself, but it can easily lead to what this Sunday's Gospel describes: envy.

James and John observed the way civil rulers governed and desired similar posts of authority. For them Jesus was a man of great expectations - he attracted huge crowds by his way of speaking and his healing powers. The two brothers wanted to secure positions for themselves when he made his move on Jerusalem. The other apostles got angry - not because they saw things more clearly, but because they too dreamed of civil power. In a word they became victims to envy. Envy eats at the heart. It destroys the soul - and tries to take others down with it.

I had a terrible experience of envy when I was a young priest. One of my parishioners had everything which I felt would make me happy: a beautiful wife, great kids, a lovely home. I especially envied his profession - it seemed more exciting than the humdrum work of the parish, particularly the endless meetings and public relations (often not responding to reality, but “perceptions” and gossip). One day he asked for an appointment. Although I felt small in his presence, I agreed to the meeting. For twenty non-stop minutes he poured out his heart, how empty and miserable he felt. When he finished, he said, “Father, I have to make a confession. I have always envied you!”

We seldom glimpse the suffering of the other person - nor do we appreciate our unique blessings. Jesus chides the apostles for envying secular authorities - and each other. He offers another way. “Take up your cross and follow me.” Embrace the apostolate with its humiliations and suffering - as well as great joys. In a word, imitate Jesus himself. By doing so we put our power of imitation to its greatest use.

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*For this analysis of imitation (mimesis) and envy I am indebted to Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled

Final Version

Versión Castellana

Bulletin (Terri Schiavo: Persistent Vegetative State or Involuntary Euthanasia?)

Announcements

From Archives (Homilies for 29th Sunday, Year B):

2012: St. Kateri, Pray For Us
2009: Whoever Wishes to be Great
2006: Vaulting Ambition
2003: Victims of Envy
2000: The Problem of Envy - And Jesus' Solution
Also: Serious Concerns (Terri Schiavo)

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