Of the seven capital sins, I believe there is one that is prevalent among priests. During my years in the priesthood, I have seen that sin, experienced it and been guilty of it myself. That sin is envy.
That sin rarely shows itself in an open display of jealousy or in an admission that we are envious of a fellow priest, but it show itself in less obvious ways.
For example, a member of our ordination class is the first to be appointed pastor, sent for further studies or given a position in the chancery, and we think to ourselves, “Why him?” His advancement confirms our belief that it is who you know, not what you know.
A priest writes an article that appears in a diocesan publication. We read the article and actually find it worthwhile, but we never compliment the author. In fact, we never mention we even saw the article.
A local pastor is publicly honored by the bishop for his work in bringing a failing parish back to life. But when we see that pastor at the next deanery meeting, we offer only a grudging word of congratulations. We think to ourselves that he would never have had such success if he had the challenges we face in our parishes.
We read the bulletins of neighboring parishes and, like most priests, the first thing we notice is the amount of the Sunday’s collection. We become aware that a particular parish’s collection is steadily increasing. Rather than being impressed by the pastor’s ability to call his people to great generosity, we think, “It’s no wonder he gets a big collection, his parish is full of wealthy people.”
We hear a good homily by a fellow priest, but rather than complimenting the preacher, we assume he must have lifted the content from some homily service.
In every case, our actions might well be motivated by envy. We may be jealous of the talents and accomplishments of our brothers in the priesthood.
All on the Same Team
I would like to suggest some possible ways to deal with the envy we may feel — methods I have found personally helpful.
One way to deal with envy is to realize that all of us who share the gift of priesthood are on the same team. We have been called by the Lord and ordained by the Church to preach the Gospel, to celebrate the liturgy, to lead the People of God in the ways of holiness and to embody the love and compassion of Christ. When someone who shares our vocation does well, we should rejoice. When a fellow priest does something praiseworthy, we need to remember that his accomplishment brings honor to the Church to which we all belong. In a sense, he scores a point that advances the coming of God’s kingdom, something that benefits us all.
Power of a Compliment
Another practice that can lessen the grip envy can have over us is to make it a practice to congratulate priests who have done something particularly well. A phone call, an email or a short written note saying “well done” will encourage the recipient and make him feel supported by his brothers. It also will decrease our feelings of jealousy. It is hard to be envious of a person we have made the effort to compliment. After all, we would not want to add hypocrisy to jealousy!
Also, complimenting others is something Jesus himself did. He extolled the faith of the centurion who came seeking a cure for his servant. He praised the generosity of the widow who donated her last coins. He spoke highly of Nathaniel, calling him a true Israelite without duplicity. He complimented Mary for choosing to sit at his feet and listen to his words.
A compliment given to another priest most likely will be met with gratitude and even surprise. For, as we know, we priests get far more compliments from those in the pews than we do from the people who have a place with us at the altar of the Lord. Also, the person we compliment might respond by mentioning something he admires about our ministry. Such mutual admiration might not be a bad thing, especially in our society when criticisms of Catholic priests often outnumber compliments.
Forging Our Own Paths to Success
Another practice that helps in dealing with feelings of envy is to pray for our fellow priests and, particularly, to pray for those of whom we are jealous. If we bring those men before the Lord in prayer, asking him to bless their ministries, our attitude toward them will change. In fact, we might see their next success as a sign that our prayers for them are working!
We also need to keep in mind that the amount of success that exists is not limited. We do not live in a world where there is just so much available success, where the accomplishments of others limits our chances to succeed. Priests who do well in their ministries do not in any way hamper our chances to succeed. In fact, they show us that successful ministry is possible.
Finally, we need to remember, ultimately, that our success as priests will not be judged in comparison to others. God will not ask us why we did not do as well as this priest or that priest; rather, God will judge us according to how well we did with the talents, abilities, graces and opportunities he gave us. That will determine whether we are judged “good and faithful servants.”
May we rejoice in the success of our fellow priests; may we encourage them in their ministry; and may we pray for them! Doing so will help us to overcome a capital sin!
FATHER THOMAS B. IWANOWSKI, ordained in 1975 for the Archdiocese of Newark, currently serves at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Jersey City, New Jersey.