Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Virtue

July 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach


Book Club INTERNAL IMAGE (internal to post) 600x214

The Sinner's Guide (Week 16 of 16)

If the faithful all practiced the same virtues, how could they be called a body, which necessarily consists of different members? – The Sinner’s Guide, (Chapter 46, Paragraph 9)

Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Virtue

When my husband and I first met, he put on a good show, in an attempt to “woo” me. But early in our relationship, he said something that should have been my first clue that we were polar opposites.

It happened one bright sunny morning while he was helping me move into a new apartment. At one point, as I was trecking toward the door to my new building, heavily laden with a box full of old books, topped off by a couple of pillows and a throw blanket, I stopped short just as he finished positioning a makeshift doorstop. He stood up grinning broadly, clearly proud of his resourcefulness (apparently the shock on my face was hidden behind the mountain of bedding in my arms).

On the gravelly cement, face-down and partially wedged by the swinging storm door, lay my most prized possession of all time. My Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. The one book for which I had scrimped and saved over $40 with the paltry income I earned as a (very) part-time desk clerk during my last year in college. The book I had eyed at Barnes and Noble for over a year – my own version of the Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.

I stood dumbfounded for a moment, before numbly stating the obvious: “You used my dictionary as a doorstop.”

But my stunned monotone was completely lost on him.  He didn’t skip a beat. Scooping up the box in front of him, he winked in my direction as he crossed my path into the building. Looking back over his shoulder, he called, “At least it’s good for something!”

My mother, who had been held up in the traffic jam of my horror, dropped whatever she was carrying and laughed until she cried.

Well, as they say – the rest is history. We married roughly two years later, and my husband has spent the past twenty years in a never-ending stream of  action – whether renovating homes or running marathons – while I’ve sat fiddling with words. I couldn’t keep the house, cars or my weight intact without him, and he couldn’t…well, I don’t exactly know what he couldn’t do without me (Those farm boys are regular MacGyvers!); but he seems happy, nonetheless. So far things have worked out well.

To say that opposites attract is to state the obvious. This pattern has been played out in love stories throughout history, and countless movies have picked up on the theme. From The Quiet Man to When Harry Met Sally, personality clashes clearly make for great entertainment.

But the striking differences in theatrical relationships make us laugh because they remind us of the interesting personality conflicts in our own relationships.  Whether we're talking about spouses or friends,  it stands to reason that we often find ourselves more comfortable in the presence of people who have strengths that complement our own. If we are calm, we are often attracted to those who are more passionate. If we tend to be outgoing and enjoy serving others, we often find companions who are more reserved and contemplative.

Virtues work the same way.

Naturally, we often admire in others virtues we believe to be lacking in ourselves.  And this is a good thing because often that example helps us to grow in areas that may not be comfortable for us.  Just as my husband has helped me learn to appreciate the value of physical labor, he has also provided an amazing example of the virtue of industry.

But things get sticky when we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, and our virtue (or lack thereof) to theirs.  We can begin to feel like failures because we don't excel in those same areas. Ultimately, we judge our own failings against what we perceive as another's virtue, and we begin to harbor envy for virtues we perceive as out of our reach.

This frustration, while it appears noble, is actually a display of selfishness and pride.

God’s grace has clothed us with the desire and drive to obtain the virtues appropriate for our own mission and purpose at this moment in life.  He loves us exactly where we are, and desires only that we love Him in return to the best of our ability. We do ourselves and God a great disservice when we compare ourselves to His other children.  For as Venerable Louis of Granada notes, “…there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Cor 12: 20).

St. Thérèse of Lisieux explains it beautifully:

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm.  If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”

God wants only our love. And in this life, that love is to be shared.  We must share that love not merely on a superficial, visible level; but we must harbor in our hearts love and not envy for those with temperaments, talents, and virtues that may be completely opposite of our own.  Further, we must thank God, who has clothed the world with flowers of all different colors, shapes, sizes and scents, that each of us may serve to beautify His Kingdom in a unique and irreplaceable way.


NOTE:  We begin our new book Next Week!  We'll be reading The King of the Golden City by Mother Mary of Loyola.  This is a book you'll be thrilled to share with your children, grandchildren, and godchildren.  It's a wonderful allegory about our relationship with Christ and His Church.  We plan to spend only 3-5 weeks on The King of the Golden City.  If you would like to plan even further ahead, when we finish our next book we plan to read The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila. Happy Reading!


Reading Assignment:

No Reading Assignment – Just Acquire The King of the Golden City and Join us Next Week!

Discussion Questions:

1. Venerable Louis of Granada had a different take on the comparison of virtues – he warned us against judging the virtue of others as less valuable than our own.  That is, of course, another danger.  Which do you tend to do more – compare your holiness in a particularly area in a more or less positive light than that of your neighbor?  What can you do about that, or what has worked for you in the past?

2. We've finished the book – As phenomenal as it was, this one was quite an undertaking!  Congratulations!  Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share regarding the reading over the past 16 weeks?  Would you recommend this book to someone else? Why or why not?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

Read more: Previous Book Club Posts

For More Information on the Book Club:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!