There are few things as toxic as envy. Schadenfreude, envy’s cousin, is close. To envy means to mistrust Jesus. It is to say, in effect, that God has erred in what He has given you, where He has placed you and what He has made you.
When I am the object of someone’s envy, I have to laugh to myself. Oh, I think, if you only knew. I think back to dark things, which I shouldn’t do, but when someone envies me and lets me know it with a not so subtle jab, I can’t yet mentally move quickly enough to avoid that old darkness.
I think back to what I saw, those horrible things I saw, my mother suffering in a way no human being should have to, and I look at my life now, a spread sheet of pills and appointments for me and my son, a list of prayers as long as my arm for the friends and family also suffering so profoundly. And I think with a definite and singular conviction that envy is one of the foe’s favorite devices.
The good news is that The Church has many ways to counteract it, many weapons against it that Christ Himself left The Church.
As we came out of the discipline of Lent into the rousing of Easter, and then into the high of the Canonizations and Divine Mercy Sunday, well, it all led me to see how the pattern of Lent and Easter is a weekly (liturgically speaking, of course) and daily pattern.
Each week we go to work, probably at a job we don’t like very much at all, and we endure all manner of insult, probably along with the sharp pangs of futility and regret. Or we don’t work. We look for work that we never find. We stretch the dollars and the credit cards and hope that somewhere on a certain day in the future the scales will balance. Or we can’t work. Our bodies and minds are too sick and broken. And we wish we could go and grab a coffee in the morning and then pop into our co-worker’s office and gripe about the boss. How light and real and productive that seems to one who is homebound or unemployed! And then the weekend: the working man’s Easter! Free to go out to eat and drink and laugh, to toss the ball with his children, to meet with friends and compare stories about incompetent secretaries and the vagaries of the market.
This is dreaded mundane reality to some, and a fantasy to others. Because we all have Lent every day, and Easter every day.
These little Lents without Jesus are about as fruitless and moribund as the Church’s Lent without Jesus. Nothing makes sense or can be beautiful without Jesus and we know it. Even if we don’t know it, we know it.
Have you seen or participated in an Easter Sunday without Jesus? Easter Sunday without Jesus is just another party, another afternoon of social tension to be endured, another day to stuff ourselves with too much food and sit around the dining room table complaining about the lazy bums on the government teat.
I see people at my parish at Easter Mass, or any Mass for that matter, and they look bored. How on earth can you be bored? I will ask someday; I will. Jesus is up there. Do you know that? Jesus is up there and you are bored by Jesus. How is that so? And then a friend says to me, “I envy your faith.” No! Don’t envy it! Go to Mass. See Jesus! You can have what I have, what is meant for you, what is your birthright. You can have Easter, but you choose Lent!
To envy is to deny that we all have little Lents and little Easters, and there does not exist in creation a device by which we can measure them against each other. You know what yours are. But you don’t know your neighbor’s. Even if you ask, he may not share with you what inner battle he fights, against what demons he struggles through every moment of the day, through every inch of his height and every neural pathway in his brain.
You look at your neighbor and envy. You see an Easter you do not have. But you don’t see the Lent.
“I have my own problems!” you say. Yes, you do. That is my point, friend. If you do, if you know how you suffer interiorly, or how you wait, wait, wait for the pill or the drink to take effect, or how you wait, wait, wait for the phone call to come from the one who went away, or how you wait, wait, wait for your father to say he’s proud of you just once, or if you wait, wait, wait, for the pregnancy to stay this time . . . then you have your Lents.
You should know, better than anyone, that your neighbor has her Lents as well. Her losses, waits, sacrifices, pains, sufferings, lies, secrets, torments, regrets, darknesses.
And you both have your Easters. Even if they are little Easters: a hug, a kind word, a bonus at work, a piece of Scripture, a child handing you a drawing of yourself, a night of sound sleep, a smile of approval from your mother, an e-mail from a friend you are sure has forgotten your name.
Jesus is waiting. Waiting through His own Lent, waiting for you to come to Him with your pains and tears, your frustrations and worries, your anger and envy. Your sins–ugly and unspeakable sins. You wish you could get rid of them? Well, that works out because Jesus is waiting for them. Go to the confessional and drop them off there.
Jesus is waiting as well for you to share your Easters with Him. When a small victory is celebrated, do we pray in thanks? Do we look above, make the sign of the cross, even say aloud boldly, “Thank you, my Jesus!” Or do we take the credit, quickly consume the victory as well-deserved spoils for all of our trials, and then spit it back out? And then it’s back to Lent, where we can enjoy our complaining and our envy.
Do not let envy be a salve, friends. The devil LOVES this. There is only one salve for all wounds and that is Jesus Himself. And there are so many ways to receive Him, to celebrate Easter with Him even if we see ourselves rightly in almost constant pain. Because we belong to a Church that is rich with Jesus’ gifts: the Eucharist supreme over all.
Every Sunday is an Easter Sunday at every Catholic church everywhere. And yet how many ignore it, choosing something else entirely, usually more of what is making them unhappy to begin with? I tell you, only man can be this foolish in his concupiscence.
Another way to feel Easter, to truly have Easter (that is, after all, to know the risen Christ), is to give. To love is to serve, and unless you have tried, you can never know the joy (not cessation of all suffering, not even happiness as the world defines it, but JOY interiorly, a feeling of being joined soul to soul with another person and with Jesus) of serving without repayment.
“Serving others won’t make my back stop hurting or pay my bills or make my wife come back,” you say. Yes, you are right. You answer me well, as one of the world would. As the devil would. But what is Jesus’ answer? Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep. To love Jesus you must get to know Jesus and to know Him is to follow His command: that is to love the least among us.
But that doesn’t always means those who appear the least. It can be those who appear the MOST–the most annoying, the most successful, the most obnoxious, the most beautiful, the most perverted, the most irreligious. Who, tell me, friend, WHO, needs us to bring them Jesus more than these?
Today, now, think of the person whose life you envy. Now pray for that person. Pray for the sufferings that person surely has. Pray that you can join your little Lents to those of that person’s somehow, and then join both of yours to Jesus’.
This is the essence of what we are here to do. Not compete, not win, not have a good time, not be happy, not live the longest or the best.
We are here to become saints by working at the projects Jesus assigned us not despite the crosses we carry, but using the crosses we carry–using them to identify with the invisible crosses of every person we encounter.