Giving to God Like Abel, 6th Monday (I), February 13, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
February 13, 2017
Gen 4:1-15.25, Ps 50, Mk 8:11-13

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today as the Church has us ponder Cain’s killing his brother Abel, we remember that that sacrifice is a type, a foreshadowing, of the killing of Christ, “whose blood speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (Heb 12:24). We see the start of that fratricide and attempted Deicide in today’s Gospel in the way that the Pharisees were asking Jesus for a sign in order to test him. Jesus had already worked many signs — healings, exorcisms, multiplications of loaves and fish, showing power over the wind and the sea — but they didn’t want to accept any of them. In fact they opposed his doing good on the day of the Lord. They, outwardly religious, were trying to trap Christ so that they could put him to death. Rather than opening themselves to him, they closed themselves and the murder of this Innocent One was only the conclusion of a process that began with their rejection and envy.
  • Just as on Friday and Saturday, we saw the typical structure of sin and its effects, so today in the first reading we see those truths from another angel in all that went into Cain’s slaying his brother. There were several steps involved:
    • Abel “brought one of the best firstlings of his flock” to sacrifice to God whereas Cain simply brought “an offering,” and God looked with favor on the first and not on the second. The first step in not sinning but rather in growing in relationship with God is to give him our best, to love him with all our mind, heart, soul and strength. We don’t have to love him, necessarily more than someone else, but just give him all we can. God’s favor toward Abel’s sacrifice was not because he was a carnivore; it was because of the spirit with which the sacrifice was given. Cain was just giving “something,” rather than something great. He wasn’t doing “well,” as God will say later. We always need to examine, in our Christian life as a whole as well as in our practices of piety, whether we’re really trying to give God our best.
    • The second stop was Cain’s becoming “resentful and crestfallen.” When we give our best, we are filled with intrinsic satisfaction; even if someone doesn’t adequately appreciate, we at least have the knowledge that we did well. When we don’t give our best, we’re looking far more for affirmation, because we’re essentially faking total commitment and want others to tell us whether the con worked. We make excuses and look for others to excuse us, or, better, to say that even at 50 percent, we still hit a home run. But when we don’t get it, we resent not getting it, because everything is focused on us. We become dejected, depressed, lose our enthusiasm. The antidote, of course, is to seek to do things as well as we can. God says, “If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.” The devil is at the door and can enter whenever we don’t do well and therefore cannot hold up our head. To conquer him, to master him, we need to give God our best.
    • The third step was Cain’s rejection of God’s advice. He was obsessed that Abel had gotten God’s favor for his offering and he hadn’t, even though Abel deserved it and he didn’t. He was eaten alive by the comparative sense rather than focused on doing well. And so he trapped his brother, calling him out into the fields where doubtless they had often played as kids, and there ambushed and killed his brother. He failed to love his brother and this was the consequence of that refusal. Because he hadn’t done well and had allowed the devil not only in the door but to set up shop in his heart, he did not recognize that his brother was in God’s image and in his parents’ image. Cutting himself from every relationship, he ended the life of his brother, the type of every murder.
    • God responded to the situation. He first asked, “Where is your brother?” God well knew where he was but he wanted Cain to acknowledge his relationship of fraternity and the responsibility that came with it. Cain continued to refuse God, in this case lying: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The point is that we are our brother’s keepers, not out of duty but out of love. We need to care for each other. Cain had gone from caring for his baby brother to killing him. But God was his keeper and could hear Abel’s blood crying from the soil. Cain was deaf to what God was saying to him, what his brother was saying to him. Cain should have been happy at his brother’s goodness. But instead he bathed the soil in his brother’s blood.
    • God could have treated Cain by the standard with which he had treated his brother, but God responded with mercy because he was Cain’s keeper. God first, mercifully and medicinally, prevented Cain from harvesting from the soil irrigated by his brother’s blood. He couldn’t profit from his sin. If Cain wasn’t going to use it to love God and others, to give God and others service through it, it wouldn’t produce for him. He would wander as a means to find himself and the real meaning of life, to make him dependent on others’ becoming his keeper. Cain, of course, responded with the fear coming from his own corrupt heart. He responded according to his own laziness, that his punishment were too hard to bear, even though he had rejected the medicinal punishment of original sin which was to work by the toil of one’s hands and the sweat of one’s brow. If he were a wanderer, then others would treat him just as someone trying to steal and eat their produce, and that’s why he feared for his life. God, however, promised to put a mark on his brow. What was this mark? Was it a sign saying, “Thou shalt not kill?” Was it simply a more conspicuous sign that Cain was in God’s image? We don’t know, but God would protect Cain even though Cain hadn’t protected his brother. God would go out into the field with Cain not to kill but to save.
  • As we come forward to Mass today, we begin by offering our bodies as a holy and acceptable sacrifice, our spiritual worship (Rom 12:1-2). We offer our first fruits, and the best we have to offer God the Father is his Son together with ourselves. We’ll pray in Eucharistic Prayer I that God the Father accept this as he “accepted the gifts of [his] servant Abel the Just.” And as the Blood of Christ is about to be poured out, we ask him to nourish the soil of our hearts so that we might always give him the best we have, today, tomorrow and forever. The devil is indeed lurking at the door, but Christ is with us, and as long as together with him, we humbly do well, that is the way he will help us to strike at the devil’s heel and share in his mastery.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 Gn 4:1-15, 25

The man had relations with his wife Eve,
and she conceived and bore Cain, saying,
“I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.”
Next she bore his brother Abel.
Abel became a keeper of flocks, and Cain a tiller of the soil.
In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the LORD
from the fruit of the soil,
while Abel, for his part,
brought one of the best firstlings of his flock.
The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,
but on Cain and his offering he did not.
Cain greatly resented this and was crestfallen.
So the LORD said to Cain:
“Why are you so resentful and crestfallen.
If you do well, you can hold up your head;
but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door:
his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.”
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.”
When they were in the field,
Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
He answered, “I do not know.
Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD then said: “What have you done!
Listen: your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil!
Therefore you shall be banned from the soil
that opened its mouth to receive
your brother’s blood from your hand.
If you till the soil, it shall no longer give you its produce.
You shall become a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.
Since you have now banished me from the soil,
and I must avoid your presence
and become a restless wanderer on the earth,
anyone may kill me at sight.”
“Not so!” the LORD said to him.
“If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.”
So the LORD put a mark on Cain, lest anyone should kill him at sight.
Adam again had relations with his wife,
and she gave birth to a son whom she called Seth.
“God has granted me more offspring in place of Abel,” she said,
“because Cain slew him.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 50:1 and 8, 16bc-17, 20-21

R. (14a) Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
God the LORD has spoken and summoned the earth,
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you,
for your burnt offerings are before me always.”
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
“Why do you recite my statutes,
and profess my covenant with your mouth
Though you hate discipline
and cast my words behind you?”
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.
“You sit speaking against your brother;
against your mother’s son you spread rumors.
When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it?
Or do you think that I am like yourself?
I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes.”
R. Offer to God a sacrifice of praise.

Alleluia Jn 14:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Mk 8:11-13

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus,
seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.
He sighed from the depth of his spirit and said,
“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”
Then he left them, got into the boat again,
and went off to the other shore.