Overcoming Envy's Allure

This is Jesus’ first homily in the Gospel of Luke, and it’s so controversial that they want to kill him. Why do they respond so negatively to His words? Many of the early Church fathers attribute the response to envy. Envy is when we experience sorrow over the good that someone else possesses. That sorrow then leads us to anger or hatred toward that person or even despair over our own lack of good.

In this case they envy Jesus because they do not believe there is anything special about Him. They believe He has no right to speak to them the way he does, because they believe that they are better than Him. When he speaks with authority to them, they are offended and they become angry at Him.

Envy is something that we all struggle with at times. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others and feel envious of their possessions, their appearance, their family, their job, or anything else, but why do the good things that other people have make us envious? One reason is that we feel their good is depriving us of that good, for example, we often feel that other another’s wealth is somehow depriving us of money. Another reason is that we don’t think they deserve the good that they have. We think they didn’t earn it. Also, we think we deserve it more than they do. We think we are better than them, so we should have more.

In the lives of the saints, there is a woman who exemplifies someone who did not allow envy to consume her. Even though she had many reasons to be envious, St. Elizabeth of Portugal was a model of charity. Despite her husband’s infidelity, and the envy that was consuming her son, St. Elizabeth turned the temptations to sin into opportunities to grow in virtue. She dedicated her time to works of charity and education. She used the gifts that God had given her to make the world a better place: she funded the building of churches, a hospital, a convent, an orphanage, she helped improve the country’s laws and agriculture, and to increase literacy. St. Elizabeth is the patron saint of those who struggle with envy.

When you notice yourself tempted to envy there are a few simple habits you can develop to prevent that envy from turning into anger, hatred, or despair. The first is to pray for the person. Say a prayer of gratitude to God for the gifts that He has bestowed on that person and that He will give them the grace to use the gifts well. Another is to use the temptation to envy as an opportunity to thank God for the gifts in your own life. Perhaps He hasn’t given you the same gifts as someone else, but He has given you many gifts, so thank Him. Lastly, we must use temptations to envy as opportunities to grow in humility. We are weak and frail creatures. We don’t have everything and we never will. We need to accept our limitations and ask God to help us become better.

Developing these simple habits turns every temptation toward envy into an opportunity to grow in virtue.

Scott Murray