On which sin are we reflecting today? Envy. A young married woman gave me permission to share how she’s struggling so much with not being able to have children yet. Every time a friend gets pregnant, or someone talks about the beauty of children, her heart sinks. Why can’t she have children of her own? Why won’t God the Father give her something good, that we’re made to have? When some friends try to console her by saying, “God’s calling you to be a spiritual mother,” that does nothing for her whatsoever.
Her pain is real and normal. Let’s acknowledge the pain that many of us feel when we want something good and don’t receive it: wanting to get married, be healthy, have financial security. But then there’s the sin of envy we feel when we see others have what we desire and we’re not happy for them.
We can understand the experience of the older brother in the Gospel. He’s in the field working, and, while approaching the house, hears the celebration. A slave tells him that his younger brother, who is depicted in the parable as truly an awful person, is receiving the celebration. The older brother then tells his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” (Lk 15:29-30).
The experience of perceived injustice is painful. It would be one thing if the younger brother had received the same treatment as he did, but the younger brother receives more!
Here’s the first step in overcoming envy: Speak your pain. Never insult God, but do say exactly how you feel. The Father expects us to speak and listens to it. The second step is to ask Him questions: “Father, why do You give good things to those who don’t deserve them? Why don’t You give basic good things to me? Why can’t I receive them?” Once we get it all out, then we’re ready to hear what He says.
The Gospel says that “his father came out and began to plead with him” (15:28). This father is actually not unfair; he cares about both his children equally. That’s why he humbles himself as a father and goes out to meet his elder son. And his words reveal his heart: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (15:31). The word ‘Son,’ and of course, ‘daughter,’ reveals God’s love for us. But the Letter to the Hebrews says, “God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?” (12:7). We know that good parents don’t give their children everything they want, but everything they need. Spoiled children often turn out very badly and are emotionally weak, because they’ve never experienced adversity. So what do we truly need, in terms of eternity? When people are born without limbs, with physical deformities, or die young, these are horrendous sufferings. But do we truly need good health and a long life? God the Father thinks in terms of eternity, and gives us what we need for that.
Look at Jesus, the Father’s only-begotten Son: He was deprived of many good things: a safe childhood, a long life, a wife and children, and a happy death. When we wonder why we’re not given good things, Jesus could tell us, “I wasn’t given good things.” The father in the parable says, ‘You are always with me,’ but the older brother doesn’t realize this is a gift. That’s why the text says that he wanted to ‘celebrate with my friends,’ not his father. He never enjoyed being with his father for all those years.
This is a question we all have to answer, “Is having God enough for us?” It was enough for Jesus. And think about this: In the end, everything ends: We lose our health, our financial security doesn’t make a difference in eternity, marriage ends with death, and our children will die. In heaven, we have God alone, and that’s more than enough.
People might not think this, but isn’t it true that, when people are in love and are poor, they’re still happy? They say things like, “We didn’t have much. But we had each other.” Finally, the father says, ‘All that is mine is yours.’ This is what brings me great comfort. Everything that the Father had He gave to Jesus, and everything Jesus had He gave to me, and this explains why I’ve never gotten everything I wanted.
Can’t we be happy for other people? That’s the problem with envy: We’re not happy that others have received blessings. But aren’t we all brothers and sisters? I’ve never been envious of my two older brothers. Their victories are my victories; their blessings are my blessings.
The father says to the older brother, “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (15:32). I’m really happy when people receive blessings, because I want them to be happy.
I mentioned once before that when my brother and his girlfriend came up to the seminary to visit me, I wasn’t envious! I thought I would be! But, when they left, it gave me joy that they had each other and I had God.
Today, I’m not going to tell you how great life will be even though you don’t have what you want. Why? Because it’s not the questions the Father is posing to us today. He wants us to ask ourselves: Is being with Him enough to satisfy us? When He gives everything that He gave to Jesus, is this enough for us? I know from experience that it is enough, because I’ve felt the pain of never being married, and the incredible joy of having God alone.
You will have to go through your own death to reach a resurrection. Healing from envy often comes through adoration, when we’re alone with the Father.
In two weeks, we have the holiest time in the liturgical year, and you might want to take advantage of spending Holy Thursday night, which leads into Good Friday, in prayer downstairs.
There’s a message that the Father has for each of us, and it’s along the lines of, “Son/Daughter, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”