What is envy? It is sorrow over someone else’s spiritual good, or sorrow when something good happens to another. It is also glee at someone else’s demise or when something bad happens to another.
We meet Pier in the seventh circle who took his own life, who was burning with envy. Yet he did not turn away from either envy or suicide. There is always hope for those who turn. Who move from one direction to another, toward the good, toward purpose. It is those in hell who no longer move who did not repent or turn away from their folly. So forever in stagnation.
Yet in Purgatory there is always movement. Movement toward God. Movement toward redemption and forgiveness. It is a movement toward hope toward the good. Toward man’s purpose–union with God.
The envious in Purgatory are told: “You must love your enemies.” These are also your neighbors. Love those who hate you or that you hate. Those in Purgatory are bound together always helping their neighbor move upward. There is a shear cliff to one side so they must move slowly and being ever-mindful of each other always helping. For the envious are also blind, their eyes sewn shut, like the falcon being trained. They cannot see. Always relying on one another. This way they are being tamed of their envy and self-centeredness. (Hawks and falcons had their eyes sewn shut to tame them so they would be trainable).
We want justice in this earthly life. Sometimes it happens, many times it does not. Will justice bring peace upon earth? Or will divine love?
Envy wants destruction of another’s life for the things that someone has done wrong. We cry for justice. Justice is good. But mercy and divine love are far better. God’s love brings about justice, but also gives good things to those who turn back, who repent. There is this tension of dealing with consequences and being given something we do not deserve. Only God is fully just. When we envy another’s being given something good though it is not deserved, we injure ourselves and others.
God is like the father in the parable of the prodigal son: he welcomes the penitent with open arms. Envy is like the brother who demands justice for what the penitent brother did not deserve.
Envy is poison; love the antidote (Dreher, 230).
(Several insights gleaned from conversations with Dr. Matt Moser, notes from Tony Esolen and Rod Dreher. And from Jon Foreman music.)