When we covet, we develop an inordinate emotional attachment to something, and our attachment becomes so great that we push God out of the center of our lives and replaced Him with the object of our desire. The object of the desire can be a person, something material or it can be something intangible such as prestige, pleasure, entertainment or success.
Having become obsessed, we become blind to the authentic goodness and purpose for which the object was intended by God. Then, in our blindness and striving to possess it, we jeopardize other intrinsically good things, such as relationships, physical and spiritual health, dignity, and the future.
Having a covetous heart entice a person to violate the Commandments that pertain to lying, stealing, adultery and killing. And most sadly, coveting is a form of idolatry that violates the first Commandment of not having strange gods.
But knowing that coveting is what entices us to break the first eight Commandments, we can use this to our advantage. Becoming aware of what we covet helps identify specific virtues to cultivate, giving us the prudence and fortitude to live according to the Commandments and reap their rewards. How cool is that?
Coveting is a condition of the heart. When we become aware of what we covet, we begin to foresee when we are approaching a danger zone (near occasion of sin) and can then avoid the temptation. For example, Jesus warns us about any lust or anger we have in our heart as being precursors to adultery and murder.
There are several conditions of coveting that are helpful for understanding how coveting operates.
Discontentment causes us to diminish what we have, grumble, complain and wallow in self-pity, and, instead of celebrating the achievements of others, we celebrate their misfortunes.
Greed makes us feel that enough is never enough. Greed continually makes us want more money, more time, more knowledge, more food, more sex, more entertainment, more prestige. Greed makes us bitter, self-centered and blind to important responsibilities and precious relationships. Greed causes us to become a slave to our “strange” gods as they demand an inordinate amount of our time, attention and love.
Envy is the most dangerous symptoms of a covetous heart. The Catholic Catechism defines envy as, “The sadness at the sight of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly.” The intense emotion of envy drives people to distort reality, leading to poor judgement and malicious actions such as slander, vandalism and even murder.
Misplaced Trust is another characteristic of coveting that places trust in things of the world instead of in God. By sowing doubt and a lie, Satan was quick to transfer Eve’s trust from God to himself. With the trust misplaced, Eve was an easy target of the false promise of becoming “like God.”
When we drift from observing the First and Third Commandments, we begin to covet worldly gods. These other gods begin to consume us and further push God and His authentic love to the margins of our hearts and, in time, leave us feeling empty.