Each of us, at least once in his life, has experienced a strange feeling of sadness or objection to someone's happiness and success. We have reacted in a similar way when someone has acquired certain material goods, which we also dreamt of.
Sometimes we are irritated by the fact that some people are better than us, they are more intelligent, beautiful, successful and enjoy other people's respect. Many a time we seem that these people are a big threat to us. Undoubtedly, envy creeps into our hearts and minds in such situations and the Bible compares envy to 'a cancer in the bones' (Proverbs 14:30).
In his already quoted hymn of love St Paul from Tarsus thinks that envy causes people to close their eyes to love their neighbours.
Envy as a grave sin
The happiness of other people makes us sad only when our own love is not in order. In such a situation we lose a kind of 'distance' towards ourselves and towards the values we have. Envy often comes between peers, those who belong to the same social class or do the same job. Our pride is usually more offended because of honours and goods that other people of the same social positions acquire.
However, we frequently envy the richer and more influential people because they can meet important people and go to the places we cannot go or do things that we can only dream of. Envy directly opposes the virtue of love and envy is a mortal sin. The more important the goods we envy the heavier and bigger our sin is. If envy concerns some important goods and someone wholeheartedly wants the other person not to have them envy is an extremely big sin.
St Thomas Aquinas regarded envy concerning someone's holiness, grace and God's love bestowed on the other as an especially mortal sin. Then envy is a sin against the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit is praised in his works and man directs his envy against him.
Consequences of envy
After some time envy can change into hatred, which in turn can lead to harming other people. Certainly, the feeling of envy led the opponents of Jesus of Nazareth who was falsely accused (see for example Luke 11:15) and his opponents were determined to kill him (see e.g. John 11:53).
Envy can lead to various ways of humiliating people. Above all these ways include: backbiting, slander, insult, intrigues and physical harm. Moreover, this vice can change into evil competition or rivalry, which are usually accompanied by jealousy streaked with sick ambition.
Finally, envy can lead to a feeling of great sadness, which kills all joy of life. A jealous person often thinks that someone's happiness is the cause of his personal afflictions. If he abides in his way of thinking he can be subject to some psychological instabilities especially when he finds joy and satisfaction in the adversities other people face.
Getting rid of envy
It seems that the first step one should make in order not to commit the sin of envy is to develop and practise the virtue of humility every day. We should simply learn to stand in the truth about us. For only the truth will set us free (see John 8:32).
A humble man knows his limitations and weaknesses. He can also see and appreciate all good sides of his personality. He enjoys the company of people who are better in various ways. He does not mind if other people are more successful than he is. In fact, he is even satisfied with it.
The second step is to cultivate brotherly love. When we love somebody we do not envy him or her but we are happy about his/her happiness because in a way it affects us as well.
May the words of the Psalms accompany our Lenten reflections concerning envy, 'Yahweh, my heart has no lofty ambitions, my eyes do not look too high. I am not concerned with great affairs or marvels beyond my scope. Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child it its mother's arms.' (31:1-2).