The following post is part of a guest series by Jason Liske of Ascending Mount Carmel. Jason is also a freelance writer and social media contributor at Monkrock. You can read more about him here. The following post is used with permission.
The sin of envy is a precursor to wrath, much more subtle than its counterpart, and able to slip past one’s watch over their heart easily if one is not vigilant. Envy is like a thief, planting seeds of poisonous foliage round about the interior castle of the heart, lighting little fires of irritation and anger here and there. Where wrath rages, envy smolders.
St. John Chrysostom, that most venerable Greek Doctor, warns us concerning “to what degree of sin it mounts and what an abyss of punishment it digs.”1 Here, I see this abyss as a pit of coals and burning embers that choke the soul with not only the interior suffering caused by envying others, but also with the smoke of gathering anger and annoyance that renders our soul virtually blind. Like a poison drop put into a glass of water unnoticed, it embitters and envenoms.
The sin of envy’s effects can be seen in our every day lives – our bitterness towards a co-worker’s promotion, our annoyance at another’s stroke of “good luck” that we think is undeserved, a sense of self-justifying pride that we deserve what another has. Here too, I like what St. John Chrysostom says – “And what, tell me, dost thou envy? That thy brother has received a spiritual gift? But from whom did he receive it, tell me; was it not from God? That means that thou art at enmity with Him Who gave to him.”2
One needs to know that the disease of envy is harder to cure than any other. I would say that someone striken by its poison is almost beyond healing.”3 (St. John Cassian) These words frighten at first, especially since I often succumb to the venom of envy myself.
As I ruminated on these things today, I reminded myself constantly of a tale about St. Anthony the Great, my patron saint. “Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.'”4
The fight is daunting; the Scriptures tell us that “by the envy of the devil, death came into the world. And they follow him that are of his side.” (Wis. 2:24-25) But humility is a greater virtue, contrary to the poisonous effects we encounter here. If death came into the world by the envy of the devil, then Life, that is, Jesus Christ, came into the world through the Blessed Virgin Mary, because of her ultimate humility – “He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.” (Luke 1:48)
Humility allows us “to exalt God’s Majesty all the more and to hold our neighbour in higher esteem than ourselves.”5 (St. Francis de Sales) “If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.”6 (John of Kronstadt) These words, however blunt, help us to recognize that “humility is true knowledge and voluntary acknowledgement of our own abjection.”7 (St. Francis de Sales) By using humility as our spiritual weapon, we force the devil to drink his own poison.