The Visitation: The antidote to comparison and envy

Your co-worker got the promotion you’ve been working for.

Your newlywed sister is pregnant, and you and your husband have been trying for years.

Your friend and her family bought a house in a neighborhood you’d love to live in but could never afford.

Or, maybe you’re just scrolling Instagram and seeing post after post of lives that seem easier, more enjoyable, more meaningful than yours.

You start comparing yourself to other women, and envy rears its ugly head.

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We’ve all been there. I’ve been there frequently. I’d be willing to bet envy is a frequently confessed sin, especially since social media has made it easier than ever for us to compare ourselves with others, even people we don’t know.

As with anything, there are saints for that. Today, we celebrate the two I have in mind.

‘In haste’

Any woman who’s been pregnant can tell you that Mary’s heroism started early — not just with her fiat (Lk 1:38, “May it be done to me according to your word”) but with her immediate departure to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Early pregnancy is rough, whether or not you have morning sickness. You’re exhausted from the hormonal changes and the rapid growth of the child within you. Of course, there’s debate over how much of the pains of pregnancy and childbirth Mary may have been spared. Still, we can say that any trip at that time period was a challenge.

Mary went anyway — “in haste,” St. Luke tells us (v. 1:39). Maybe she was seeking Elizabeth’s advice and mentorship as an older woman who was further along in her pregnancy. But, we can also assume she went to help her cousin.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, was experiencing her own miraculous pregnancy. Her husband, like Mary, had been visited by an angel and told to expect an impossible child. Elizabeth was elderly and infertile. She and Zechariah had likely long since stopped hoping to become parents. Yet, there she was, in “the sixth month for her who was called barren” (Lk 1:36).

‘Rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Rom 12:15)

If I’d been Elizabeth, I’d have been overjoyed at finally having a child. I also, truthfully, would have probably been a little smug to be carrying a miraculous baby who would be “great in the sight of the Lord” (Lk 1:15).

And I probably would have been envious to the point of anger when my younger (grace-filled) cousin came to visit and announced that she was carrying the Son of God.

I know that this would probably be my reaction because of how I’ve reacted to similar situations in my own life. OK, not coming face to face with the Mother of God, but knowing someone who was pregnant when I longed to be, or seeing someone get an honor that I felt like I deserved, too (or, shamefully, instead).

What did Elizabeth do? She didn’t even wait for Mary to tell her the news — the Holy Spirit let her know, and she received Mary with joy and humility. She saw her own position in relation to the child Mary carried, and she saw what that child meant for her and her people.

Mary, in her part, didn’t lord it over Elizabeth. Rather, she burst into what we now know as the Magnificat — the “Canticle of Mary,” a song about the greatness of God, not herself. Then, she stayed with Elizabeth for the rest of her cousin’s pregnancy, presumably helping her with her duties in and around the home and then when she went into labor.

But I’m not immaculate

If you’re like me, you probably sometimes think, “OK, but I’m not full of grace. I wasn’t immaculately conceived. It was easier for Mary.”

First of all, Eve was also immaculately created, and she made the same mistake we all too often make. So, there’s that.

Second of all, Elizabeth wasn’t immaculately conceived. She was a virtuous woman, we can assume, through lots of prayer and receptivity to God’s grace.

But finally, we can always try again. We can never be so envious that we can’t be forgiven. I frequently confess envy in confession. While I hope that over time and with God’s help, I won’t have to confess it as often, I also know that there will never come a time that God says, “Enough is enough. You’re not forgiven anymore.”

The same God who made and loved Mary and Elizabeth made and loves me. He made and loves you. He is the same God who brought the Israelites back time and time again. (Read the Old Testament if you don’t believe God will never give up on you!) He is the same God who left his Church in the charge of Peter, the apostle who denied him and abandoned him during his great suffering. He is the same God who experienced that suffering and died on the cross to show you that he will never stop loving you.

By all means, set limits on your social media. Pray about the relationships where you most struggle with envy. Maybe even go out of your way to practice gratitude and charity with those people — they can be great antidotes to envy. Put in the work to fight this sin. But never forget that there is mercy and forgiveness for you if you commit it again.

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