When many think of original sin in the Garden of Eden, most think of eating of the apple as the first sin. However, before Adam and Eve ate that apple, they both “coveted” the forbidden fruit and desired to be like God. Their hearts were deceived, and they sinned against God, separating themselves and all of humanity from God and one another.
Have you ever considered why the 9th and 10th Commandments on coveting are in the list of Commandments? After all, they are listed last and, because they only pertain to thoughts, not actions, do they really merit the level of sin? And are we required to mention them in Confession? The fact is, God did include His warning about coveting in His list of ten, not just once, but twice. Therefore, it behooves us to understand what coveting is, how it operates and leads us to other sins.
Most don’t regard the desires that lead us to sin, as sin, such as greed and envy, but coveting is at the root of sin which then results in division, anger, and chaos. Most typically confess the action of eating the apple as the sin. But it is important to acknowledge that sin is both in the coveting and the action. If we can catch ourselves early in the coveting stage and immediately divert our attention, we won’t proceed to the action and other sins are avoided. Doing so requires honesty, awareness, commitment, humility, and God’s grace.
In short, coveting is a disordered, self-centered desire for something that we don’t have, or a fear of losing something we do have. Coveting is an obsession that leads one to do something that violates the two “Greatest Commandments.” Namely, loving God with all our heart, soul and mind, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Many addictions come from coveting. Not just the criminal addictions, but the ones that seem benign, such as being addicted to your phone, social media, binge watching, prestige, and authority
With coveting, the object of obsession gradually becomes so powerful that it displaces God and His goodness. It becomes one of the “strange gods” warned about in the 1st Commandment, with ourselves being the supreme “strange god.” With the One True God displaced by “strange gods,” using God’s name in vain becomes “just an expression,” and worshiping Him on the Lord’s Day becomes an “obstacle” to pursuing our “strange gods.”
With our focus being on the “strange gods” we are enticed us to lie and steal to get ahead, pursue sexual pleasure to satisfy oneself, and even to kill spiritually, emotionally or even physically.
With the continued success of the movie Sound of Freedom, which highlights the horrible nature of human trafficking, we have to shake our heads in disgust thinking – “how can someone become so blind that they commit such horrible acts of sin on innocent children?” The destruction they inflict began with covetous thoughts of money, power, and pleasure. This desire grew so much that they become willing to act on their desires and pursue their “strange gods” at the expense of the innocence, souls, and very lives of their victims.
The traffickers and their customers didn’t just wake up one day and decide to be traffickers or sexually abuse innocent children. Rather, with one covetous thought at a time their obsession grew. Starting with something like a simple thought that seemed insignificant at the moment. A television series show that “showed” a little more than it should, enticing them to explore “harmless” pornography. Or, starting with a momentary feeling of jealousy over someone’s prestige, money, and power. With thoughts of greed, deception, and cheating, they became blind, weak, and deceived. Step by step, deeper into covetousness, is the path to the lying, stealing, and adultery that lead them to the horrific sin of human trafficking.
How do you and I protect ourselves and fight against coveting and its destruction?
First, we need to recognize and acknowledge what we tend to covet, and then make a firm commitment to purge our heart through prayer, virtue, and God’s grace. We need to replace our covetous selfish desires by immediately redirecting them to love of God and love of neighbor.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides wonderful insights on the 9th and 10th Commandments to better understand how to redirect our thoughts. Also, this Ten Commandments page provides relevant and practical ways to recognize and circumvent covetousness.
Pope Francis gave a beautiful explanation of the slavery of coveting wealth and the desires to be rich. He challenges us to reflect on the nature of the wealth and riches we are storing up. Is it mercy, love, grace, and forgiveness, instead of material possessions and greed dominating our thoughts and emotions? Money itself isn’t evil, but the love of the money, the coveting of it, the desire to regard it over love of God and at the detriment of others, is the root of all evil.
If you’ve never pondered or confessed the sin of covetousness, now is a good time to make a good examination of conscience with a focus on coveting. Doing so will open your eyes and heart to how these two Commandments offer the keys to resolve both the personal and cultural chaos and confusion, paving the way to free you from the precursor of sins that harm ourselves and others and result in regret and division.