Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 24, 2004
Resentment raises its ugly head
And ever watchful, I try to turn it into heartfelt gratitude
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
Someone recently said they detected in me an envious spirit. Perhaps they were right. A person in my predicament must be careful to guard against envy or resentfulness. Most of my adult life has been compromised by multiple sclerosis (MS).
There have been times when I had to fight resentment of my deteriorating health at the point when most men's careers are moving forward. My most vulnerable period for resentment was being forced into medical retirement from a promising career with the federal public service at the age of 37.
Life passed me byNow at 51, I find myself fighting resentment that life passed me by. Other men have risen to their peak earning capacities. I live on a modest disability pension.
I have fought envy and jealousy in my personal life too. Years ago, I burned to watch other fathers ski with their kids while I sat in chalets watching my children ski alone. I used a cane to help me walk, then two canes, then crutches, then a motorized scooter, now an electric wheelchair.
Even in small matters I find envy and raw jealousy surprising me. One pleasant Sunday afternoon last winter, I took my two-year old grandson outside for a ride on my wheelchair. He sat on my lap, bundled in a warm blanket.
At one point, we stopped to watch a father tobogganing down a hill with his children. The frosty air was filled with happy shrieks and laughter. My grandson wanted to join the fun. I had to ask the man if he would give my grandson a ride on a toboggan. He was very kind and took my little fellow.
I must admit, watching my small grandson giggling, swooshing down the hill with a neighbourly man, prompted resentment in me. Why couldn't I be doing that? Why must I always sit on the sidelines of life? Rather than feeling gratitude for a stranger's kindness, I was resentful.
The Church teaches this about envy: "Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2540.) My reaction to the tobogganing incident was an illustration of this truth.
Envy is a mortal sin. It ranks up there as one of the seven deadly sins. It was envy that made the devil the devil. It was Cain's envy of Abel that caused the first murder. Envy engenders other vices and sins. A spark of envy in the human heart can flare into blazing jealousy that endangers all possibility for genuine joy of life, and if allowed to surface into action, it can end in self-loathing.
The Oxford Dictionary defines envy this way: "A feeling of discontentedness or resentful longing by another's better fortune."
Yup, that pretty much sums it up. Envy always makes me discontent and I suspect it is the same for you. Envy is a destroyer of our capacity for friendships - both human and divine. Envy unchecked will seriously compromise our Christianity. That is the real danger of envy.
St. Augustine advised us not to yield to the flames of envy: "For so long as no external action is permitted, it gets so used to the authority of the mind and the benevolent power of the will that even interior movement is calmed" (City of God).
Breeding discontentModern advertising is often designed to make people discontent with what they have and envy other people's good fortune. My hair is too grey, dull and limp. Look at that youthful looking man my age on TV with the pretty woman running her fingers through his natural looking brown hair.
Why should I be happy with my five-year old reliable mini-van when I could own an exciting SUV with the gold initials "Sport-XL" on the back? Why settle with "reliable" when I could have "exciting"? The only thing I own with the initials XL is my underwear and that's not sporty or exciting.
Then there are those five toxic words realtors tell new homebuyers to plant seeds of discontent: "It's a good starter home." That starter home is beyond the wildest dreams of most people of the planet. My parents raised three children in a 900-square-foot starter home. My 90-year-old mother still lives there. (A few years ago, a realtor actually called on her with a reminder that she's been living in a starter home for the past 50 years. She cares?)
ContentmentSt. Paul said, "I know also how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance" (Philipians 4:12). Elsewhere he said, "Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he (God) has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.' Thus we say with confidence 'The Lord is my helper, [and] I will not be afraid.' What can anyone do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5-6).
As my multiple sclerosis enters an advanced state, I don't often find myself jealous of other men's houses, cars or boats. I envy their health, their mobility and energy. That is equally destructive to being content with what I have. What do I have? I have a God who has promised not to forsake or abandon me. I have the love of Christ's Church. The warmth of a loving family surrounds me.
It's within Christ's embrace that we find every reason to be content in whatever state we find ourselves, because he is there with us. There is no reason or place for envy in a redeemed people.
The opposite of envy is love. Christ calls us to love God with our whole hearts, and to love one another as he first loved us. There! That's the key to the gentle art of contentment, the anecdote to envy.
(Mark Pickup is a frequent contributor to the Western Catholic Reporter. He attends St. Vital Parish in Beaumont.)
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