“There are several women in my life whom I deeply admire for their virtues. As a young bachelor, I once fancied the idea of dating some of them. But alas! My religion tells me that I can marry only one person, and that I should not covet my neighbour’s wife.
As I matured, I slowly learnt that admiration is simply the natural, well-ordered response to the virtue that we see in someone else. This admiration draws us into friendship with that person, so that “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Pr 27:17).”
Admiration therefore isn’t so much a sign of a vocation to marry someone as much as it is a sign of where God is leading us in our call to holiness.
To better understand this concept, let us take a closer look at the word “admire”. It has its roots in two Latin words, ad (towards) and mirus (miracle). As such, admiration is a response towards a miracle. And what is more miraculous than virtue manifest in a frail, mortal being? It tells a story of divine grace met with human cooperation, so that goodness wells up within the soul and overflows into the world through words and deeds. As the Catechism explains:
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
— CCC 1803
Usually, we admire people who possess those very virtues that we lack on our own part. After all, miracles are precisely exceptions to what we expect of ourselves and of others. Admiration is therefore an awakening of our conscience, telling us what areas we can work on to become a better person.
The next step is to befriend that person. As we get to know their stories — fraught with trials and tribulations — we draw hope from their victory. And realising that we are not alone on this journey, we entrust ourselves to divine grace and strive towards those virtues that we thirst for. In this way, the miracle of virtue in that friend also becomes the miracle of virtue in you and me.
As Christians, we are firstly called to admire Christ, so that — being drawn into friendship with him — we might come to share in his interior and exterior life through virtue. We are also called to admire the virtuous people whom the Holy Spirit sends our way for our own sanctification.
On the other hand, envy is the disordered response to the miracle of virtue in another. Instead of embracing a new friend who can show us the path of virtue, we treat that person with contempt. The virtuous simply prick our conscience.
Since we can’t silence our conscience, we silence the virtuous — just like the scribes and pharisees in Jesus’ day. In the end, they got nothing out of it and, even as they encountered the one who was virtue incarnate.
When we inflict harm on those we envy, we gain absolutely nothing. In fact, their gracious response further fuels our anger. As St Cyprian puts it:
Whoever you are that are envious and malignant, observe how crafty, mischievous, and hateful you are to those whom you hate. Yet, you are the enemy of no one’s well-being more than your own. Whoever he is whom you persecute with jealousy can evade and escape you. You cannot escape yourself.
— St Cyprian, Treatise 10
How can we overcome envy? Envy originates in the lie we tell ourselves, I will be loved less if I have less or am less. But true love is a gift and not a reward — we cannot earn it or lose it by our own merit or demerit. As St Paul tells us, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us (Rm 5:8).” If we grasp the reality of God’s unconditional love and detach ourselves from the fickle and conditional love of others, we will overcome the sin of envy.
That will take a lifetime’s effort.
Meanwhile, let us take the opportunity to reflect: Who do I envy, and why? Answer this question, and you will discern the virtues that you truly seek beneath the facade of the “perfect me” that you present to God, to others, and to yourself. In humility, turn to the path of admiration and you will gain a spiritual companion, whose miracle of God’s grace met with human cooperation will become your own.
Written by Louis of VITA Scribes.
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