Wednesday, February 01, 2006


When Cain killed his brother Abel, he succeeded in his attempt to dis-Abel the new world that God had made. And thus he disabled the moral structure of the world, and it all went downhill until the Savior appeared millennia later. Even now, however, the world acts as if there has been no Savior, and moral degradation has surpassed anything our forebears could have devised.

Of course, if only his parents hadn’t started things with their own sin, chances are Cain would not have had to bear the everlasting stigma of being the world’s first murderer. But life is full of “if onlys,” and we had better get used to sticking to reality as it is.

It is probably instructive for our own understanding of fallen human nature that murder was one of the first sins committed by man. There seems to be an almost instinctive urge (and this goes well beyond that of self-preservation), when having to deal with a person or situation that incites fear or anger—or that is unpleasant, threatening, incriminating, or just plain tiresome—to simply get rid of it. Cain’s anger toward Abel was based on envy, for God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s (we’re not told why, but we can probably assume Cain already had a bad character, if this slight resulted in murder). Abel became an irritant to Cain, so he got rid of him. And how many of those irritating little “products of conception” are routinely killed by those who simply want to get rid of the problem! You can kill someone, but if you do, the “problem” doesn’t go away. It only gets worse.

Cain’s bad character is manifested in several ways. He was arrogant and mendacious toward God when He asked concerning the whereabouts of his brother. “I don’t know where he is; am I my brother’s keeper?” For the second time the voice of God thundered these words, which Eve first heard in the garden: “What have you done? Cain still didn’t repent, but after God passed sentence he started whining: “My punishment is too great!” The story ends with Cain going “away from the presence of the Lord.” This is the tragic outcome of sin.

The pattern of sin repeats itself. It was not much different with Cain than it was with Adam and Eve. In each case they sinned, they hid (for as St John says, those who do evil flee from the Light), they made excuses or tried to misdirect the divine accusations against them, and then had to leave the presence of the Lord. That is a general pattern that still happens countless times today. People today seem not to realize that there are consequences to their actions: the pain and sorrow, the emotional and spiritual damage that evildoing leaves in its wake. They act on the feeling or desire of the moment; they make choices contrary to God’s will, and then when the consequences of the choices inevitably manifest, they try to hide, make excuses, or somehow attempt to get off scot-free. Then, when the consequences become evident, they cry like Cain that their punishment is too great. It doesn’t work, does it? We’ve all been there; we’ve all seen the bad end of submitting to sin. We've thought it somehow unfair that we must be accountable for our actions. But we’re so slow to learn the necessary lessons. We’re disabled, but our wounds are self-inflicted. When we sin, we gradually kill what is noble and good in us, as Cain killed his brother Abel.

We don’t, however, have to flee the presence of the Lord. He has ordained repentance unto forgiveness and salvation. That is a lesson that the Cains and Judases of the world have not yet learned, but one that is imperative for all of us to put into practice. The Lord counseled Cain: “If you do well, you will be accepted. But if you do not, then sin is waiting at your door; it’s desire is for you but you must master it.” In a fallen world, sin is always at the door. But it is not inevitable that we succumb to it, for the Son of God has entered the human condition and redeemed it by his death and resurrection. It should be easier for us to master the advances of sin than it was for Cain, for we have the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are not only our brothers’ keepers, we are the keepers of our own immortal souls. But we can entrust them to the Lord, to Our Lady, to our guardian angels. Thus we have a lot of help. If we really want to do what is right, we are able. Abel was able and did well before God, with only his human good will. We have the grace of the Redeemer, so we are able to do even better.