Combating the Green Eyed Monster

(September 23, 2018)

Bottom line: To begin each day with gratitude and petition will go a long way to combating that green eyed monster of envy.

This month we hear selections from James. He begins on a lofty note: all good giving comes from above - the father of lights. In Jesus God enables us to not only hear his word but to do it - to practice an undefiled religion which shows itself in care for the afflicted.

Today James explains what he means by "defilement". It includes sins like gossip and unchastity. These sins cause great destruction. You can see it in the #MeToo movement, the clergy abuse scandal and the widespread family breakdown. Back in the fifties and sixties people talked about the "danger" of repression: If a person represses natural urges, they said, it will lead to anxiety and anti-social behavior. Better to "let it all hang out". Well, we saw how well that worked. When untethered, lust has terrible destructive power.

In today's reading we see something even more destructive than lust: the sin of envy, also called jealousy. Like lust envy comes from a good energy. I see what another person has and I want something similar: a nice car, a successful career, a good friendship. When I was in high school I envied the athletes. At some point I realized that even though I would not be a great football player at least I could get in shape with exercise and eating right. So the natural energy of envy is good, but it can go sour. As James says: "You covet but you do not possess. You kill and envy...you fight and you wage war."

In today's Gospel envy rears its ugly head. Jesus begins teaching about the cross but his words go over their heads. Instead of grappling with the mystery of the cross they start arguing about who is the greatest! You'd think the Apostles would be content to be one of the Twelve, but we human seem to always want more. It's not enough to be one of the Twelve. We want to be numero uno.

A priest told about going from a poor to a wealthy parish. He saw more envy there than in his old parish. One guy told him how miserable he became when he learned another executive got a bigger bonus! That other guy's good fortune tortured him. Shakespeare calls jealousy a "green-eyed monster." The reference is to a cat with typical green eyes. When the cat captures a mouse, it plays with its victim. "Beware of jealousy" says Shakespeare, "it is a green-eyed monster that mocks the meat it feeds on." Envy makes fun of the victim it devours.

Envy is the most miserable sin. A Spanish proverb says: "Envy is skinny because it bites but never eats." Envy plagues our society. We've developed a politics of envy. Instead of finding ways to work together we concentrate on bringing other people down. So what can we do about envy?

James offers a solution. On one level its simple, but it costs something. James says, "you do not possess because you do not ask." To overcome envy we need to ask and to ask rightly.

What does it mean to ask rightly? Perhaps you remember the TARP method of prayer. The first two letters stand for "thank" and "ask." Before we ask we should thank, express gratitude for what God has given. For sure, we have big problems and plenty goes wrong, but don't you and I also have something to thank God for? After you count your blessings, then you are in a position to ask for what you need - not to win the lottery, but what you actually need today.

So before we ask we need to thank. If we did that every morning we could have little and still be joyful. Most children in Peru get very few Christmas presents, some none. The parish would host a "chocolatada" - a party with hot chocolate and sweet bread. The children were so happy and grateful. And I will never forget a family's joy when they installed a new tin roof on their adobe hut. They had joy because they knew how to say thank you - to each other and to God. When you thank God, be specific: thank him for your home, your family members, your food, whatever measure of health you have.

Thank him; then lay your needs before him - and don't forget to pray for others: family members in pain, our church with its burden of shame, our nation so divided and hurting, our world where so many suffer unnoticed. To begin each day with petition and gratitude will go a long way to combating that green eyed monster of envy.

We will go into more depth at Generations of Faith this Wednesday. Our theme is "Turn to God". Like a sunflower turns to the sun so we turn to God. That's the heart of morality. More on turning to God next week. Then we will hear that money can serve not only as a good tool, but that it can also become a dangerous trap. For today let's take home James' message: Jealousy and envy lead to disorder. Asking rightly brings peace, mercy and good fruits. Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (25th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Discernment of Spirits Week 4: Overcoming Desolation
2012: We Are Little People
2009: The Antidote for Envy
2006: The Desire for Wealth
2003: Text in Context
2000: He Placed a Child in Their Midst
1997: Twice as Many Things, Twice as Unhappy

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

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