Homilies: June 2007 Archives

Envy, An Ugly Sin

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Thursday of the Twelfth Week of the Year I
Genesis 16:1-12, 15-16

The painting of Hagar in the wilderness is by Giovanni Lanfranco. It hangs in the Musée du Louvre. It depicts Hagar in Genesis 21:16-17. Wearily, she turns her head and, in disbelief, sees the compassion of God in the face of the angel sent to console her.


Life is messy

One hardly knows whom to pity more in today’s First Reading: Sarai who is growing old in bitterness and sterility or Hagar who becomes the object of Sarai’s abuse. Caught in the middle is poor Abram. He wants to please Sarai and comfort her and, at the same time, surely felt something for Hagar, the mother of his child. Life is messy.


Sarai is eaten up by envy. Envy is one of the seven capital sins. It is a root sin that produces a number of poisonous offshoots. What is envy? It is sadness at the sight of another’s goods, opportunities, talents, or advantages. Envy itself may lurk below the surface but it comes out in sarcasm, in bitter comments, in nasty criticisms.

The Diabolical Sin

Saint Augustine saw envy as the diabolical sin. “From envy,” he says, “are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbour, and displeasure caused by prosperity.” How does one if one is harbouring envy in one’s heart? If when another person is praised or acknowledged you feel a twinge of displeasure, it is rooted in envy. If when another person is given opportunities for personal growth, education, or travel, you feel resentment, it is rooted in envy. If when another person shows the ability to do something well, you can resist the temptation to snipe and criticize, it is rooted in envy. Envy is an insidious sin. In community life it can be deadly, especially when it goes unconfessed and when there is no repentance for it.

Recognition, Repentance, and Confession

Priests with a long experience of hearing confessions will tell you that envy is a sin rarely confessed. Why? Surely not because no one commits the sin of envy! Envy is not confessed because it is not recognized. It is not confessed because there is no repentance for it. Saint John Chrysostom says that one committing the sin of envy is “engaged in making Christ’s body a corpse.” Surely, a frightening description of the sin!

Just Go Away

Sarai’s envy cause her to become so abusive that Hagar runs away. This is what the envious person really wants: that the other should just go away, disappear, get lost, drop dead. The Catechism says that envy can lead to the worst crimes. Sarai doesn’t kill Hagar in a bloody way; she eliminates her by making her life unbearable. There is no mention of Hagar taking her child with her. She is obliged to leave her baby behind. Hagar becomes a woman on the run, without a home and without security, like so many homeless abused women in the bus stations and shelters of every big city. Abram looks on helpless.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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