VI. LACK OF CHARITY TO ONE’S NEIGHBOR
1. He who does not desire the good of his neighbor, but is envious of him, does not possess the love of his neighbor.
1. We call a man envious who merely through ill-will is vexed at the prosperity of another, or rejoices when misfortune overtakes him.
The envious man cannot bear to see the good fortune of another, and consequently he seeks by word and work to do him harm. He is like a certain kind of snake, which is said to gnaw away the root of trees which bear sweet-smelling blossoms, because it cannot endure the perfume; like the moth, that frets away the purple robe, or like rust that corrodes iron. The envious man who rejoices at the misfortune of his neighbor is like the raven that gloats over corrupt and stinking carrion. But our vexation or pleasure may arise from the love of God or of our neighbor, in which case it is not blameworthy; e.g., if a man is grieved because one who is an enemy to the Church is raised to a position of influence, or because great prosperity attends a sinner who will employ his good fortune to sin the more. Satan envied our first parents in paradise; Cain envied his brother Abel, because his offering was acceptable to God (Gen. iv. 5); the sons of Jacob were envious of Joseph because he was their father’s favorite (Gen. xxxvii. 8); King Saul envied David on account of his having slain the giant and being honored by the people (1 Kings xviii. 8). Many a man grudges another a post more lucrative than his own. The height of envy is to grudge another the gifts of divine grace, and progress in virtue. This is one of the sins against the Holy Ghost. The high priests were jealous of Christ when they saw that He worked many miracles; they therefore determined to compass His death (John xi. 47). The devils feel this kind of envy; they are furious when they see the elect advancing towards perfection and at once assail them with persecutions.
2. No sin renders man so much like the devil as envy, for envy is peculiarly the devil’s sin.
The envious man is an imitator of the devil, for by the envy of the devil death came into the world (Wisd. ii. 24). Just as Christ says: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another” (John xiii. 35), so on the other hand the devil can say: “By this shall all men know that you are my followers, if you envy one another as I have envied you” (St. Vincent Ferrer). The jealous man wishes to see nothing but misery around him. There is more malice in this sin than in any other. For all other sins and vices there is some pretext which a man may plead in his excuse; the excuse for intemperance is hunger; for revenge, the wrong one has received; for theft, extreme poverty, etc., but for envy no plea can be alleged. It is worse than open war. There is always a cause for war, but none for envy; besides when the war is over all animosity is at an end, but with envy it is unending (St. John Chrysostom). Moreover envy is the only evil quality which charity cannot overcome. One who is an enemy to you, or enraged against you, may be appeased by kindness, but the envious never. Among all sins, envy is the only one which affords no gratification to those who indulge it; the intemperate, the avaricious, the choleric, seem to gain something by yielding to their passions, but envy is sterile. It may be compared to the moth, which fluttering about the lamp, singes its own wings, but does not extinguish the flame or even cause it to burn less brightly.
3. Envy is most hurtful to a man; it robs him of inward content and bodily health; it leads to many cruel actions and finally to eternal perdition.
As the worm gnaws away the wood to which it owes its origin, so envy eats out the heart to which it gains admission; it harasses the mind, destroys peace of conscience, banishes gladness from the soul and fills it with despondency and sadness. When once it is firmly rooted within the soul, its presence becomes apparent outwardly; the pallid cheek, the hollow eyes, testify to the suffering it occasions. Thus we are told that Cain’s countenance fell (Gen. iv. 5). When envy fixes its malevolent talons in the heart, and tears at a man’s entrails, his food becomes distasteful to him, his drink no longer refreshes him (St. Cyprian). Envy shortens a man’s days (Ecclus. xxx. 26). The envious man is his own executioner. As rust corrodes iron, so envy eats into the soul that harbors it. It brings its own punishment, for it frets away and destroys the individual who cherishes it. Envy leads to many acts of cruelty. Through envy the earth was first stained with a brother’s blood, and through envy the Jews delivered Christ up to death. Envy causes us to murmur against the arrangements of divine providence. The laborers who had worked all day long in the vineyard murmured against the master of the house through envy, when those who had worked only one hour also received a penny (Matt. xx. 11). The envious man hates to see the benefits God bestows on others. Envy excludes from heaven; it is a sure pledge of eternal damnation. Through envy the angels fell from heaven, and man was driven out of paradise. If we are bound even to love our enemies, how great will be our punishment if we pursue with our envy those who could never have wronged us! (St. John Chrysostom.)
4. The best means of overcoming feelings of envy is to do all the good we possibly can to our fellow-men.
In order to thrust the monster of envy out of the heart, no sword, no breastplate, no helmet is needed, only the panoply of love. Do all the good you can to the person whom you envy; at least pray for him, that his happiness may be increased. Thus you will banish the demon from your heart; you will thereby deserve a twofold crown; the one for your victory over envy, the other for the charitable deed you have performed (St. John Chrysostom). Consider also how short lived is all here below. In a little while we must leave all. It will not then matter what have been your possessions, what high offices you have filled; your future happiness will entirely depend upon your good works, If you will be great hereafter humble yourself now; love to be unknown and despised, for he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke xiv. 11).
2. He does not love his neighbor who injures him, whether in regard to his life, his innocence, his property, his honor, or his household.
3. Nor does he love his neighbor, who performs no works of mercy.
“If thou dost not give thy neighbor, who is in want, sufficient to support life,” says St. John Chrysostom, “thou dost not love him.” To give alms is a strict duty for those who have the means of giving them. St. Ambrose severely censures the miserly rich men of his day. “The walls of your dwellings are hung with splendid tapestries, while you take the clothes off the poor man’s back. A beggar at your door asks for the most trifling alms; you do not so much as vouchsafe him a glance as you pass by, debating within your mind what kind of marble will look best for the pavement of your palaces. A starving mendicant asks for a crust of bread in vain, while your horses are champing their golden bits. How terrible are the judgments, rich man, which you prepare for yourself, who might give assistance to so many who are in want. The diamond you wear on your finger would alone suffice to feed a multitude.” St. John Chrysostom speaks in like manner to the wealthy who are hardhearted. “What makes thy miserliness most reprehensible is that neither poverty nor hunger compels thee to it. Thy wife, thy house, the very dogs beside thy hearth glitter with gold, whereas the man made after God’s image, redeemed by the blood of Christ, is left to perish through thy inhumanity. How many streams of fire will be the portion of such a soul!”
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