Let’s go back to our childhood catechism classes. What are the 7 capital sins?
List: Pride, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Anger, Envy
Today’s gospel talks about Envy, a deep sadness that we experience when we want to be or to have what someone else is or has (seemingly)… The possessions, the happiness, talents or abilities that someone else has.
I remember my years in the major seminary. I would be envious of someone else’s ease at comprehending philosophical or theological ideas, at their memory to remember some philosopher’s idea or someone’s gift of body, affability, etc.
I remember what a spiritual director once said. The antidote to such thinking or desiring was to ask God to help me be content with who I was, to notice my own gifts, to thank God for my gifts, to get to know them, and to be comfortable in my own skin.
Over the years, I have “flowered” or become who I am as a priest, and most of those whom I admired for their intelligence or other gifts left the seminary to pursue what God wanted them to pursue really, and God has developed me into the priest, the spiritual listener, the reader of souls, with an ability to accompany others on their journey and “to take on the smell of the sheep” as Pope Francis encourages.
Really, we do not have to make judgements. Really, we need just to acknowledge the personal gifts we have, and to be as good as we can be at fulfilling our vocations and responsibilities.
As I look back over my almost 80 years and 53 years in being a priest, I believe I spent a lot of time in doing what others expected and fulfilling the expectations of what the Church or some bishop expected. Over the years, I began to recognize my own gifts, to discern “the right paths” for my life as a priest. I do not believe that God wants us to be like anyone else. He wants us to develop “our own sense” of who you are and who I am.
The greatest model that He gives is his Son, Jesus. And even Jesus had to figure out what his life would be like and who he would be like — like his Father, and we like him, not as plaster cast statues, but as unique persons, with unique gifts, in a unique body. Part of envy, I think is wanting to be someone who I am not and to have whatever we think they have or are.
Focus on St. Paul and today’s second reading. Paul prided himself as being more religiously Jewish than anyone and killed early followers of Jesus whom he believed were blaspheming his God by following Jesus. One day, “he was knocked off his horse of pride and heard Jesus pleading with him” to stop persecuting him and killing his early followers. It was out of that experience and St. Paul’s many years of reflection and preaching the gospel of Jesus that he was able to write what we hear today: “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by (my) life or by (my) death.” What he wrote is the most profound insight by which he lived: “For, to me, life is Christ and death is gain.”
Our life comes together because of the presence and the amount of the presence of Jesus that is living in me, motivating me in a very natural way and somehow living through me and touching others. That is what his motto: “For me, life is Christ” means and that last sentence of the passage today is another way to express the same thing: “Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
How can we do that possibly? In one way we cannot and in another way we can. The prophet Isaiah heard God say to him and to remind us: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”
As we might have concluded that the way God operates is above “our pay grade.” And therefore excuses our being envious.
I think that God invites us to turn our petty, jealous, and envious habits into a tool for self growth. “Let him (you and I as Isaiah the prophet says) to be jealous and envious about being generous as God is in forgiving, in accepting, in overlooking, in admiring with gratitude, and try to adopt the noble and good characteristics of others. Too often, we are only envious of the physical, mental characteristics of others, or of their possessions.
Are we the scoundrel or the wicked whom Isaiah tells “to forsake” his way and thoughts?
How do we bring a little bit of heaven down to earth and a little bit of compassionate understanding into our hearts? Can we narrow the gap? If we cannot, God would never have encouraged us to narrow it, which God does today!
So let us turn to the Gospel. The question is not what may seem to be fair but rather “how we can be so understanding and compassionate. All of us need a full day’s wage. The question is not how long I have been working at it?
The Kingdom of Heaven is what Jesus brought to earth. It is about what God wants to give and wants us to share. God does not have a time clock. In Jesus’ parable, God says: “You, too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.” God does not say that I will give you what is fair.
The justice of God and the justness of life has to do with a supernatural fullness, a salvation to encompass everyone, a divine righteousness that is the birthright of everyone. This is the usual daily wage described today.
Now, don’t argue with God that God is too generous. “Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?… Am I not free to do as I wish?” God says.
“Are you envious because I am generous?” Yes, I am. Nevertheless, Jesus says that I am inviting you to be as generous as I am (God says). In all humility, we ask God to open our hearts. Jesus is calling us to be a new kind of land owner, where what is first or last becomes blurred and we become a new person.