The Green-Eyed Monster

Othello and Iago by Solomon Alexander Hart
“Othello and Iago” by Solomon Alexander Hart

Saul kept a jealous eye on David. (I Samuel 18:19)

From the desk of Snowbound Father Mark… A summary of Question 36 of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, part II-II: De Invidia.

Goodness makes us rejoice. Evil makes us sorrow.

We naturally want honor, a good name, a good reputation–and the prosperity that tends to go with a good reputation. But when we focus too much on winning the esteem of others, we grow vain.

We observe that sometimes people enjoy prosperity and a good reputation because they deserve it. But sometimes the unjust and undeserving prosper, and that makes us indignant.

When we meditate on the truths of the Christian faith, we recognize that success and prosperity in this world is one thing–relatively short lived. On the other hand, success and prosperity in the pursuit of holiness and eternal life–that’s another thing. That’s worth pursuing with zeal, with jealousy. May we all jealously strive to get to heaven.

While we do, we’ll forget about vanity. And we’ll learn to accept the fact that this world deals out rewards and punishments in an amazingly unfair way.

Divine love rejoices when anyone prospers with the truly beautiful goods of eternal life–with virtue and genuine excellence. By the same token, divine love sorrows and feels pity whenever a neighbor suffers.

When, on the other hand, we lose sight of the real goal of all our striving, and seek only success and recognition in this world, then we live in a state of competition with our peers. We sorrow at the neighbor’s achievement and excellence–because I think his or her success somehow harms me, makes me look like a loser by comparison.

Now, even good people experience twinges of envy–these twinges are venial sins. But if I forget heaven, grow vain, and let the green-eyed monster take over my my mind, I will gossip; I will tear down; I will hate. And then I will heartlessly rejoice at the misfortune of the one who has excelled me.

The rule to measure ourselves by: The loving, merciful person does not envy anyone–except the saints in heaven, whom he hopes to join. But the envious person shows no mercy.

Reluctant Samuels

Samuel and Eli John Singleton Copley
“Samuel and Eli” by John Singleton Copley


Our first reading at Holy Mass Sunday comes from the first book of Samuel the prophet. We hear about the young Samuel. While he was still a boy, he lived in the temple.

The Lord spoke to little Samuel. But the prophet hesitated to think that a revelation had come to him. Instead, he thought that the old priest sleeping nearby must be speaking.

When it comes to making bold pronouncements about ‘the will of God,’ we Catholics tend to operate like the young Samuel. We will not be the first to insist that we know God’s mind, that we have the answers, that we get to speak for Jesus.

In other words, holy rolling is not our way. We take a humbler tack. A Catholic thinks to him- or herself: “I have to worry about getting myself to heaven. That’s more than enough work for me. I don’t need to worry about conveying divine communiques, telling other people their business. Let them follow their consciences, as I strive to follow mine.”

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