Are you envious because I am generous? Envy is one of the seven deadly sins, and some theologians will say it is the worst deadly sin because it is the sin of Satan. Because of Satan’s envy, sin entered the world. As I go through this homily and focus on envy, I want you to think about that for yourself. Is there anybody that you envy? As I reflect on what that is, and as I prayed with the scripture passage myself, I thought, indeed, there’s nobody I envy. And I started praying with it, and I thought, huh, there are a couple of people. And this is an excellent definition of envy. It’s a German word, my favorite German word. It doesn’t translate into English, but it’s called schadenfreude. Does anybody hear what that word is? Schadenfreude? Schadenfreude is joy at the misfortune of others. Schadenfreude. That’s an excellent German word, right? So, joy at the misfortune of others. Is there anybody in our lives that we would delight in if they failed at something? We would take delight, or something terrible happened to them. Schadenfreude.
So, envy is a particular fault of the devil since it brought about his fall. And it was envy, that caused man’s fall. The Book of Wisdom states that death entered the world through the Devil’s envy. So, this suggests that the devil envied the first humans and brought about the fall. Through his envy. The first murder that ever happened was Cain and Abel. Cain was envious of Abel. So much so that he wanted him destroyed and he found a way to do it by murder. The prodigal son, the older brother, in the passage, is envious of the younger son. And the father says to the older son, there’s no need for you to be envious, because everything I have is yours. You’ve been with me all this time. But he’s still envious of the younger brother.
My 30 day retreat, I was at Creighton which is in Omaha, NE and Omaha has a beautiful museum. It’s called the Jocelyn Art Museum. And when you make your 30 day retreat, it’s all silence. But you get two breaks. You get two days in between all that silence. And one of the days I went to this museum, and it was during the week of the spiritual exercises where you focus on sin. Particularly your own sin. When I walked into the museum, I went to the European art section, where there was Christian art. And there was this large painting, four by three. It was called the Fallen Angels. And it was these angels that had, they’ve got wings. The snakes are wrapping around their legs, and they’re looking down with this absolute look of envy, absolute look of evil and anger and resentment. And when I looked at that picture, I realized a part of me sometimes feels like that. And I realized that I don’t want to be trapped like that. I don’t want to live my life with that feeling of envy anger. So that was a grace that I was given during that retreat, the realization that I could live in that in that way. And there was a desire not to.
So, we hear about the gospel today, and Jesus is telling the parable about this landowner. The landowner is sending the people out to take care of the land. And we know that some people come at the very first hour, five o’clock, and they start, and then it goes all the way to the last person. Each person he gives a denarius, so a denarius is a small coin. But a denarius is enough money to last for one day’s wages. So, he’s giving them a day’s wage so they can live on that denarius for that day. The denarius is supposed to mean salvation for us. I was trying to find a picture of what a denarius looked like. I was going through some of my literature, and it showed a picture of a hand, and in the hand, it showed a denarius, a small coin kind of like the size of a quarter. And I realized it looked like the host to me. So, the host, the body of Christ, is Our Daily Bread. God gives that daily bread to every one of us.
He desires that all of us receive this.
Saint Augustine says because that life eternal shall be equal to all saints, a denarius is given to all. But for as much as in that life eternal, the light of merit shall shine diversely. So, he’s saying that all these gifts that we have, our talents, will be shining diversely. So that under the same denarius bestowed unequally, one shall not live longer than another, but in the many mansions, one shall shine with the splendor of another. So, he is saying here that the denarius, the gift of eternal life, is given to every one of us.
But how we work that out and our salvation will differ for everyone. So, our labor will be different. Our labor cannot be measured or compared to other people. So, think about the denarius being the Eucharist. We come here at the altar today and are given the Eucharist. No matter what anybody’s done this week, whether you’ve failed in your spiritual life or done excellent in your spiritual life, we’re all given this denarius. And this denarius is eternal life.
Now, some people will come to different points in their lives. As very young children, some people will live in their faith and be inspired; their whole faith is grace and growth. Some people will come with their midlife crisis, which may be when they return to the faith. Some people may come when they’re older and in the faith. But regardless of when we come to the faith or how long we’ve labored, God wants to give us eternal life. So that word schadenfreude. It’s diabolic. Because to feel envy is human, but to savor schadenfreude is diabolic. Because what that means is we want someone else to lose eternal life. We want to rip that out of somebody else’s hands. St Thomas Aquinas says that envy is sorrow, sadness, or anger at the goodness or excellence of someone else because I take it as lessening my own.
For some reason, when we see somebody else doing something good, we think it’s lessening our own. But it’s not because we are given our gifts and talents to use. Unlike jealousy, he says, the critical difference with envy is that I do not merely want to possess the good or excellence you have. I want to destroy it in you. That’s what envy is. You want to destroy the goodness or excellence of somebody else. So, envy is truly diabolical.
So, three questions to add. First of all: Is there anyone in your life right now that you are envious of? Is there anybody you could say that schadenfreude word that you would delight to see that person fail or be destroyed? The second thing is, do you realize the dignity that you have? Of your work, of your labor? That, however, you came into your working for the Lord, do you realize how good that is? Third and finally, do you realize the gift we’re given today? The denarius is the gift of eternal life. The Eucharist that we will receive today. Because it is the gift of the Eucharist. God wants to give us eternal life. So, stop schadenfreuding with each other. Give up envy and realize the great gifts that we have.
We’re beginning the process of RCIA here really soon. The Right of Christian Initiation. And what I am going to invite you to do is pray for a moment. And there may be even people here at Mass today who are not Catholic and would like to receive maybe that denarius, that gift of eternal life, that Eucharist. I want you to close your eyes and pray for a moment. Either for yourself, if that’s what you desire. Or, if you’re already Catholic, pray for somebody right now in our Church that they may want to receive this gift of eternal life.
Image Used with Permission Edouard Cibot (French, 1799–1877),
Fallen Angels, 1833
oil on canvas, 49 x 37 1/2 in.
Museum purchase, 1995.18. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019