The Antidote for Envy

(Homily for Twenty-Fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year B

Bottom line: Now is the time to take the antidote for envy: to become like a little child, recognizing our radical dependence on God and others.

Today's Scripture readings warn about one of the most hateful sins - envy. The Old Testament reading tells how people bring down a "just man" because he makes them feel bad by comparison. St. James identifies envy ("jealousy and selfish ambition") as the source conflicts and wars. And in the Gospel we see Jesus' disciples maneuvering for top spot.

As the Catechism explains, envy is a desire for superiority that leads to "sadness" at the other person's good fortune and satisfaction at their downfall. "When it (envy) wishes grave harm to a neighbor," says the Catechism, "it is a mortal sin." (#2539) It can plunge a person into hell - to spend eternity with the one whose root sin was envy. Lucifer could not stand the idea of anyone being superior to him - not even God. Envy fuels his implacable hatred of God and God's children.

All of us experience envy - sometimes in ridiculous ways. I remember being envious of another priest's full head of hair and rich speaking voice. It tormented me, although I did eventually repent. A person can repent of envy - but that repentance involves the willingness to be cured.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante describes a cure for envy. He tells about a woman named Sapia who was so filled with envy that she rejoiced at the downfall of her hometown - because its defeat brought bad fortune to those she envied. Well, Sapia repented and wound up in Purgatory. But before she could enter Paradise, she had to undergo a cure. It involved having her eyes sealed and putting her arm on the person ahead of her to find her way. The cure for envy is understanding - not just intellectually but deep in one's soul - our dependence on each other.

An ancient Spartan gives us a good example. The city had to choose 300 men for its governing body - and Paedaretos was on the initial list of candidates. When the final list was read, however, Paedaretos was not chosen. A friend said to him, "I am sorry. The people ought to have known what a wise officer you would have been." But Paedaretos replied, "I am glad that Sparta has 300 men bettter than I!" Here was a man who knew that the greatness of others did not subtract from - but added to - him. He had the antidote for envy.

If a pagan could have such wisdom, what about us who have the example - and grace - of Jesus? Now is the time to take the antidote for envy: to become like a little child, recognizing our radical dependence on God and others.

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General Intercessions for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for 25th Sunday, Year B):

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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