Today we honour the memory of Saint Agnes, a teenage martyr of the Church who died in the year 305. Having consecrated her life to God, Agnes was denounced as a Christian to the pagan authorities in Rome. After refusing to renounce her faith Agnes was tortured and then beheaded; her body was buried outside the walls of Rome on the Via Nomentana, in a cemetery named in her honour. Saint Agnes is held up to all young people as an example of fidelity as they seek to follow Christ.
Just like the rest of us, Saul was a man with both strengths and weaknesses. As Israel’s first king, chosen by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel, he certainly enjoyed God’s favour and received divine strength for his mission. Saul had personal courage and even charisma. He was a natural leader, and he began his reign with great promise and potential.
And yet Saul’s adult life was marked by two tragic flaws: jealousy and disobedience. Saul envied David because the people gave him greater praise after his defeat of Goliath than they did to Saul as king. Saul was convinced that David would make political capital out of his popularity and perhaps even seize the throne. And yet Saul had no basis for this fear. In fact David respected Saul and his position. He recognised that the same divine power that had allowed him to defeat Goliath had also established Saul as the rightful king. And yet Saul, blinded by fear and jealousy, failed to see God’s hand at work, and he gave in to the vice of envy.
As we are all aware, Envy generates resentment and bitterness and is a terrible vice not only because it manifests selfishness, but also because it makes its victims miserable. It can plague not only an insecure king like Saul, but ordinary people like us.
There is a temptation for us to resent the fact that some people who seem to have no regard for God or their fellow human beings are the ones who are wealthy and powerful in this world. Even priests and religious can become bitter about their situation; and this is because envy knows no boundaries, it’s part of the human condition.
Although there is a pettiness in all envy, its main cause is a lack of personal security – not the kind of security which comes from having lots of money – but the conviction that God loves us. By recognising the wealth of God’s blessings in our lives we will never need to envy anyone. God’s hand is always at work in our lives, directing us to what is best for us no matter what may seem to happen to others. By placing ourselves completely in God’s hands we overcome any temptation to envy, and we learn what it is to be truly content.