Saturday, September 22, 2012

iPhone Envy (Homily)

The New iPhone is out after all the months of waiting... turns out the iPhone 5 isn’t much better than the iPhone 4s, which wasn’t much better than the iPhone 4, but for some reason they are sold out and people can’t wait to get their hands on them.  

Jimmy Kimmel did a bit recently where he hit the streets with an iPhone 5 to get peoples reactions.  “It is kind of funny how some people react when the new iPhone comes out.  Some people actually get mad:  “Why would they make another product I desperately want to buy...” it’s almost as if the new iPhone ruins the old iPhone, but it doesn’t.”

When Jimmy went to the streets he didn’t really have an iPhone 5.  He had an iPhone 4s (he joked that the iPhone 5 wasn’t even out yet).  The comedy was that they all said:  “Wow, it’s faster, the screen is definitely brighter, it is clear HD, it feels lighter and looks thinner, I’ve got to have it.  One of them even had an iPhone 4s and didn’t realize he was holding the same model in both hands.  

There is a sense of “what I have is no longer good enough and I want what you have.”  Even if it is not any better!  

Saint Paul warns us in today’s second reading:  

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice...
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;

The truth is, if we are always looking for the new iPhone, we are never going to be happy with what we have.  

From the very first children of Creation, Cain and Abel, envy was at work, and it ended in murder.  

In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the ground, while Abel, for his part, brought the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock.  The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and dejected... Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.  (Genesis 4:4)


God gave us a safeguard from this envy in the 10th commandment:  “You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.”  (Catechism #317, Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21)

St. Damascene, Doctor of the Church, described envy as “sorrow for another’s good”.  

Thomas Aquinas, refers to envy and describes it as one of the capital sins... even at times a mortal sin.  He explains that “Charity rejoices in our neighbor's good, while envy grieves over it."

Socrates graphically illustrates envy as “the ulcer of the soul.”  

St. Gregory says “we can envy those only whom we think better in some respect than ourselves."

German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant, defined Envy as a tendency to “view the well-being of others with distress, even though it does not detract from one's own.”  (Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals 6:459)

This is the iPhone Envy that we get... it’s that feeling of distress when we realize that someone else has something better than ours, even if it doesn’t make ours any worse.

One of the most well known stories of Envy is that of Snow White.  

The Evil Queen, who happens to be Snow White’s Stepmother, is an exquisitely beautiful woman, but she is aging.  Insecure of her own beauty she constantly asks the magic mirror on her wall:  “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?”  Each time the mirror replies... “You, my Queen, are fairest of them all.”  

But, when Snow White begins to blossom, the mirror responds differently.  The queen asks:  “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?”  The mirror responds: “Famed is thy beauty, Majesty. But hold, a lovely maid I see. Rags cannot hide her gentle grace. Alas, she is more fair than thee.”  The Queen becomes envious: “Alas for her! Reveal her name!” And the Mirror replies: “Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.”  “Snow White!”  The Queen screams with utter disgust.  

From that point forward her Envy takes over and she decides the only way to remain “the fairest of them all” is to kill Snow White.  

Even in the Gospel today Jesus notices envy among his disciples.  

"What were you arguing about on the way?"
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.

This is moments after he told them what he would undergo!  The disciples were comparing themselves to one another to see who was the favorite.  They were struggling with Envy.  

We all probably struggle with envy from time to time.  If it’s not iPhone envy, then it’s something else.  

Do you find yourself constantly looking at what others have and resentful that you don’t?  Do you find that you always want more than you have?  Do you look at your friends houses, or cars, or children, or jobs, or money, or spouse, or athletic ability, or grades, or salary, and find yourself coveting what they have?  Do you delight when they fail?  Does it sadden you when they do better than you?  

If we answer yes to any of these questions than we have to admit that we struggle with envy.  

So how do we get out of this vicious cycle?  

The great Poet Dante, in his travel into the Inferno, portrays the envious as, “plodding along under cloaks of lead with their eyes sewn shut because they are blind to all of what they have been given.”

He goes on to say that the only way to overcome envy is to stop looking at what others have been given and to see what we have been given.  If we are to look anywhere it is upward at God who gifts us all... To be grateful for all that WE have received.  

“As always on Dante’s mountain, when you climb to a new terrace you are greeted with examples of the virtue that slays the vice in question. Which virtue, then, does Dante choose as the slayer of envy? It is magnanimity: the virtue, literally, of having an expansive soul. The magnanimous soul embraces the good of his neighbor as if it were his own, and deplores his harm, likewise. It does so, not by some egotistic appropriation of the good, but by a joyful and large-hearted recognition of inequality.”  (What Dante Can Teach Us about Envy.” Anthony Esolen)

Dante ends the section on Envy with the cure.  The only way out of vice is to avoid it and move towards the virtue.  

"It is because you focus on the prize
of worldly goods, which every sharing lessens
that Envy pumps the bellows for your sighs.
But if, in true love for the Highest Sphere,
your longing were turned upward, then your hearts
would never be consumed by such a fear;
for the more there are there who say 'ours'--not 'mine'--
by that much is each richer and brighter
within that cloister burns the Love Divine."
(Purgatorio Canto XV)


If you find yourself envious of others.  Turn your gaze.  Close your eyes.  Turn to God in prayer.  Stop looking at everything that they have and look at what you have been given.  Be grateful.  Embrace the good others have as well as your own.  Open your eyes and see that God blesses us all differently.  And realize that he has given us everything in the Eucharist.  We are all called to sit together at the table and above all remember his promise that “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”  In this case, it’s good to be last.  The old iPhone will do just fine.  

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