Friday, 31 March 2017

Lent Week 4 Friday

 Readings: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; Psalm 34; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

From her work with very young children, Melanie Klein concluded that envy is a basic and perennial aspect of human experience. In her account of things, envy becomes the ‘original sin’ of humanity, a negative reaction to the source of good when it is being good towards me. It is a kind of resentment that the source of good is so good. The generosity of ‘the good breast’ is experienced as a kind of power over me which obliges me to be grateful and causes me to feel humiliated.

The first reading of today’s Mass is a powerful description of the effects of envy. The good person, simply by being good, is experienced as passing some kind of judgement on my way of living. Klein spoke of envy driving people into what she called the paranoid-schizoid position and we see these things described also in the first reading. The other person’s holiness is experienced as a threat to me even when that holiness places itself at my service. ‘Even to see him is a hardship for us’. We can presume that the just one is not making the judgements that the wicked attribute to him but their paranoia projects these judgements on to him. ‘In their thoughts they erred’: the deadly sins originate always in fantasies, thoughts that we find rising up within us without our having put them there. Of all these deadly thoughts, envy is one of the most insidious.

Envy hates to see others happy, or good, or holy. It experiences the happiness, goodness and holiness of others as some kind of deprivation. Thomas Aquinas describes it as a kind of sadness which results from feeling that God’s gifts to another person somehow take away from my worth and excellence. In this it is, of course, a kind of madness, but then all the deadly sins are forms of madness. Envy prevents me admiring and respecting others. I will feel obliged to pull them down in some way, to attribute wicked motives to them, to undermine the reputation they have for goodness.

Envy cannot bear to be grateful which is why it resents the source of good not only when it is being good to others but even when it is being good to myself. To be grateful is to acknowledge dependence and this is something envy cannot bear, it feels like a loss of self. At its worst envy becomes violent and physically destructive. The sense of humiliation and resentment that accompanies it makes it feel justified in trying to destroy the good one whom it feels has brought about this terrible feeling of denigration, dependence and even annihilation in itself. So Jesus becomes the victim of envy, the motivations of his eventual destruction at the hands of men following exactly this analysis of envy and what it leads to.

To ‘begrudge a brother his grace’ is one way of describing what arises from envy. Not only does the envious person feel that God's gifts to others are a threat to him, he also envies the Holy Spirit who is the source of grace. We see clearly the kind of madness it is, not only to resent God’s gifts to others as if this were some kind of slight in my regard, but to envy the generosity of the Spirit, the abundant kindness of God’s good breast.

Envy would prefer that all should be equally unhappy and is the most debilitating of sins. It seeks to pull everybody down to the same level of misery. After it has done its worst to others it becomes self-consuming and self-destructive. In his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer says that envy is the worst sin – all other sins are only against one virtue whereas envy is against all virtue and against all goodness.

For Thomas Aquinas the cure for envy is charity. We see how powerful a vice envy is: only the most powerful of the virtues can dissolve its power. Loving others enables us to enjoy, rather than envy, their achievements and blessings. The gifts of God to those I love I will experience as gifts in which I share. It is essential that we understand the roots of envy in us, that we understand its madness, and that we grow in the virtue of charity, which alone conquers the violence and destruction wrought by envy.

The kindergarten is a place full of sweet and innocent children. It is also a place where envy first raises its ugly head and begins to distort and destroy any possibility of communion and friendship. Our hope depends on the One who, destroyed by our envy, is raised to a new life. This new life means even more abundant kindness and blessing for the world, along with the capacity to rejoice in, rather than to resent, the love that is beyond all envy.

1 comment:

Rollin said...

This is very good. It gives me a new understanding of envy which I am experiencing now. I come to find out that the envious person is blinded by this fault.