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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Envying Another’s Gift of Grace

This sin against the Holy Spirit might seem odd, especially to the ears of those who put little value in spiritual goods.  It is literally envy and resentment to another’s good standing before the Lord. We hear something of this in the derision of others as “holier than thou,” not because of pretense but because they emanate something of God’s presence and holiness.  The greater the grace, the more it seems to precipitate criticism from those who are lacking.  I recall witnessing something of this when Mother Teresa and her sisters were at a service.  A religious sister of another order (who was known for her dissent and had long since abandoned the habit) mumbled despairingly under her breath about Mother and the spectacle of humility and poverty they exhibited.  I suspect the very grace for which we loved Mother Teresa was simultaneously what brought out the venom against her from those who fell short of her radical discipleship.  Do not underestimate the involvement of the devil as spiritual forces are particularly agitated by the presence of divine grace.  Beyond the issue of envy, this grace probably had a part to play in those who questioned her motives and decisions from the non-believing world. The whole message about believers as signs of contradiction or as a witness opposed is intricately linked to a saving faith that invokes grace.  The more this faith is made real through loving obedience, the more abundant this grace becomes. 

It may be true that certain people have a greater inclination to the Lord and a capacity for his grace than others.  However, the opportunity for holiness is not denied any of us.  Such requires an open disposition to God for both saving and actual (helping) grace.  Instead of resentment, we should find inspiration in the witness of others.         

Whenever we are jealous or envious of others there is a loss of contentment or satisfaction in what we possess. We want what someone else has. Of course, when it comes to spiritual gifts it may be that some prefer cheap grace over that which requires devotion and merit to receive.  While all grace is a gift, it is acquired through faith, the sacraments and virtuous living. Obviously if a person is complacent or lazy in his discipleship, then the measure of grace is seriously limited.  Just as repentance makes room for faith, faith makes room for grace.  Some are satisfied with living in the mud of their venial sins.  They might be saved but it will be by the skin of their teeth.  Others suffer from mortal sin and thus they become the living dead— envying those who are alive in Christ by grace— but hesitant to repent and find this life for themselves.

This form of envy toward another’s spiritual good can and often does create enmity, not only with a particular person or group of people, but also with almighty God.  I actually recall a lady upset because she thought that God liked someone better than her.  During Bible Study she entered a tirade about John being the beloved apostle.  She argued that it was not right that God should love one over another.  Of course, the Scriptures were speaking about the human affection between our Lord and John.  It must be said that God loves us all with an infinite love.  The problem is that for some, even this is not enough.  He dies on the Cross for each and every one of us— not as one lost in the crowd— but personally, for each of us by name.  I suspect the envy of another’s spiritual wealth comes along with one’s own regret for spiritual impoverishment and a reluctance to appreciate what our redeemer does for each of us. 

If one is in God’s good graces, it may seem a puzzle to a number of us as to why a person would resent another’s good fortune with the Lord.  Does it matter if we should find ourselves in the basement or penthouse of heaven as long as we find ourselves in paradise with God? I recall a funny story about this.  An elderly woman was always complaining with her husband of many years about going to Mass.  She nagged him constantly about his bad habits and failure to attend church with her.  When her husband became sick, the priest came to the house and gave him absolution and the last rites. Soon thereafter he died.  The following Sunday, his wife was leaving church looking more miserable than normal. The pastor said to her, “I am so sorry about the loss of your husband.” Then she angrily responded, “That’s not what I am upset about.  For years I told him that unless he changed his ways then he was going straight to hell.  Then you come over and made a liar of me!”  Ouch.

Connected to the sin of presumption and despair, this transgression looks outside of ourselves and not only envies the good grace of another but might prefer their damnation.  It comes from the same root of thinking about ourselves too much and about our neighbor too little.  It constitutes a usurpation of divine judgment.  It violates the principal law given by Christ to love God and to love our neighbor.  Love would rejoice in the good fortune of another.