Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house...nor any thing that is his. – Exodus 20:17
As we talked about in the article on the ninth commandment, to covet something is to desire something and decide to get it. Therefore, coveting something that belongs to someone else is to decide, or make an act of the will, to steal it. The sin, therefore, is not merely the act of stealing something, but in deciding to steal it. For example, if my neighbor buys a new fishing reel, I might say that I’d really like to have one like that, and that isn’t a sin. If I say that I don’t just want one like that, but I want that specific one, and, if I get on opportunity, I’m going to take it, that is what it means to covet.
The Catechesism of the Catholic Church relates covetousness to envy, saying, “Envy is a capital sin. It refers to the sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly. When it wishes grave harm to a neighbor it is a mortal sin: St. Augustine saw envy as ‘the diabolical sin.’ ‘From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity’” (CCC 2539). Notice that envy is related to “sadness at the sight of another’s goods” and “joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor.” These are signs that we should look for in our prayers and when we examine our consciences, so that we can fight against these temptations. These are temptations that anyone might experience, but just being tempted, even strongly tempted, is not a sin; instead, recognizing those temptations should lead us to fight against them. The Catechism recommends two ways to combat covetousness and envy: poverty of heart and the desire for union with God.
Poverty of heart is a detachment from worldly goods and riches. In the beatitudes, the Lord said “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “but woe to you that are rich: for you have your consolation” (Mt 5:3 and Lk 6:24). The Catechism says, “The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace” (CCC 2546). What makes us happy? What satisfies the desires of our hearts? Poverty of heart comes from the realization that worldly goods and riches can only bring, at most, temporary happiness, and setting our hearts on them often brings more pain and suffering. However, the Lord says, “Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither rust nor mother doth consume, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also” (Mt 6:19-21).
We need to spend some time dealing with worldly things, paying bills, and making money, and these aren’t bad things. They can, however, become bad when they distract us from the spiritual treasure of God’s grace, so that our priorities get switched around. We can’t take any of that stuff with us when we die, but we can leave a legacy to those who are left behind. The best legacy we can leave behind, far better than a large bank account, is to love them enough to prepare them not only for life on earth, but for eternal life in heaven.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.