Dear Father Angelo,
I am a 21-year-old young man happily engaged, but often troubled by a feeling… jealousy. Could you give me some clarifications on this topic? What does the church think about it? Is it always a sin? Can it be silently offered for the benefit of souls?
Thank you so much in advance
Answer from the priest
1. the word “jealousy” is an ambivalent one.
On the one hand, it means envy for the good of others.
In this case, we would wish for others not to enjoy the goods they own, because that possession makes us look bad.
Here envy, as you can see, wants the evil of the other. And this is undoubtedly contrary to charity, and it is a sin.
2. Instead, wishing for oneself to possess as well what others enjoy, strictly speaking, is not envy.
Very often, in common speech, this is meant by envy. But so far, there is no sin.
3. On the other hand, there is sin when one feels bad for the good that others enjoy, wishing that they could not enjoy it.
4. In Holy Scripture we have examples of sinful envy such as that of the Philistines towards Isaac.
Here is what the holy text says: “Isaac sowed a crop in that region and reaped a hundredfold the same year. Since the LORD blessed him, he became richer and richer all the time, until he was very wealthy indeed. He acquired such flocks and herds, and so many work animals, that the Philistines became envious of him. (The Philistines had stopped up and filled with dirt all the wells that his father’s servants had dug back in the days of his father Abraham.)” (Gen 26:12-15).
This is what envy had led the Philistines to: they filled with dirt the wells that Abraham had dug for his son Isaac.
5. Another example of envy leading to evil is that of Rachel, Jacob’s second wife.
She is envious of Leah because she has children while Rachel does not.
Here is what the holy text says: “When Rachel saw that she failed to bear children to Jacob, she became envious of her sister. She said to Jacob, ‘Give me children or I shall die!’ In anger Jacob retorted, ‘Can I take the place of God, who has denied you the fruit of the womb?’ She replied, ‘Here is my maidservant Bilhah. Have intercourse with her, and let her give birth on my knees, so that I too may have offspring, at least through her.’ So she gave him her maidservant Bilhah as a consort, and Jacob had intercourse with her. When Bilhah conceived and bore a son, Rachel said, ‘God has vindicated me; indeed he has heeded my plea and given me a son.’” (Gn 30:1-6).
6. The other meaning of envy is that of zeal.
Even in our vocabulary it is sometimes said that one is jealous of his things, because he takes care of them and keeps them well.
In this sense, in Sacred Scripture we read that God is jealous of his people because he wants them to be preserved from evil. And as a sign of this, Israel’s enemies are annihilated.
Thus in fact we read in Isaiah: “O LORD, your hand is uplifted, but they behold it not; Let them be shamed when they see your zeal for your people: let the fire prepared for your enemies consume them” (Is 26:11).
And also: “The LORD goes forth like a hero, like a warrior he stirs up his ardor; He shouts out his battle cry, against his enemies he shows his might” (Is 42:13).
7. We read in the Sacred Scripture that St. Paul also felt these feelings of zeal for the Christian community of Corinth: “For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor 11:2).
The Jerusalem Bible notes: “Paul, friend of the bridegroom, introduces him to the Church, his betrothed. Starting from Hos 2, God’s love for his people is represented by the love of the bridegroom and of the bride” (note to 2 Cor 11:2).
The jealousy of Saint Paul is an ardent love that cannot suffer that others contaminate what he loves.
8. In conclusion, there is a sinful jealousy that must be eradicated from our heart.
And there is a healthy jealousy that wants the reality or the person we love to be preserved from all evil.
This second form of jealousy can, indeed must, be offered to the Lord so that his grace will make up for what we are unable to accomplish.
As I hope that this form of jealousy will grow more and more in your heart as a zeal for the Lord, for the Gospel, for the Church, and for the people you love, I assure you of my prayers and I bless you.