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The Mark of Cain
Solidarity, the Mark of Cain and the Christian Mission © Third Millennium, LLC
By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
In the Beginning
The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, provides an extraordinary account of "the beginnings" of the created order and most particularly the origin of man and woman. The name itself means the "Book of the Beginnings." However, this book provides much more. It presents us with deep insights into the very reason we human beings are the way we are and reveals how we can change.
This first Book of the sacred text was a reference point for the Lord Jesus Christ in His authoritative teaching on the absolute prohibition on divorce (See, e.g. Matthew 19). It has, throughout Jewish and Christian tradition, become the reference point for explaining the deeper meaning of God's relationship with his creation and the crown of his creation, humankind.
The story of the fall of the human race, recorded in the third chapter, is a profoundly insightful account of the wrong choice made by our first parents after they were invited into a relationship with the Creator and the results of that choice - in the lives of all of those who would be borne from them.
After having been fashioned out of love by Love and for love, having been given the capacity to choose to love in return, they chose against love. In so doing, they suffered the consequences of their errant exercise of freedom. In the wake of that rupture of relationship all of creation was deeply affected. They committed this "original sin" precisely when they used their freedom (the very essence of what reflects the "Image of God" within each of us) to reject God's invitation to participate in a relationship of love.
What makes us human beings different than all the other creatures (which God fashioned out of His love for us) is our capacity to make choices. God was not (and still is not) interested in the rote response of robots. He wants the loving response of sons and daughters. He invites us into communion with Him. He wants the free gift of men and women who choose to love Him.
Ah, the extraordinary power of our capacity to choose. It opens up either heaven or hell. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (par. 1861)
The results of this wrong choice had generational repercussions.
The Mark of Cain
One of the other accounts in the "Book of the Beginnings", the "Book of Genesis" in the Old Testament of the Sacred Scriptures, also packed with deep insight, is the story of Cain and his brother Abel:
"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.
Cain then left the LORD'S presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
This story provides a framework within which we can more fully understand our relationship with God and our obligations to one another. The question "Am I my brothers' keeper" still echoes in our day.
How we respond to this question will have implications for our personal and family life, our social and international relationships, and indeed the very future of the world in which we live. The story of the offspring of Adam and Eve is a story about the obligations of human solidarity.
We are our brothers' keeper. The sin of Cain was a sin against solidarity.
So much about the story is rich with deeper meaning For example; it is interesting to note where Cain settled after this horrible act of fratricide. Following his attempt to "cover up" and his pronouncement of his "independence" from God (the root of every false understanding of freedom) he was banished to the "Land of Nod."
"Nod" literally means "to wander." Since that dreadful act of fratricide, it seems that the entire human race, born bearing this mark of Cain, has wandered aimlessly- searching for both the God whose fellowship they rejected and for the brother they killed.
God's response to Cain's choice to murder his brother revealed both the consequences of every wrong choice and His extraordinary mercy in spite of our errant exercise of our capacity to choose. Cain lost his very identity and wandered through life with no purpose. Yet even in all of this, God "marked" Cain for protection. He never stopped loving him.
The fruit of that first sin, committed at that tree in the garden called Eden, was now playing itself out in the offspring of Adam and Eve. Two brothers who were born of the same parents made two very different choices. This dichotomy plays itself out throughout human history.
There is also the deeper meaning behind the two offerings the brothers brought to the altar. What was it about those offerings that either pleased or displeased God? Did God prefer meat to grain? Of course not-he had created both and needed neither. He looked at the order of love that the sacrifices revealed.
Cain "in the course of time" brought some of his grain. The sacrifice was only an afterthought to him. This response revealed a relationship with God that was not integral to his life but rather was itself an afterthought. On the other hand, Abel brought the "first of his flock", revealing in his actions the centrality of his relationship with God, a life surrendered in love.
Two men, each with the same parents, each exercised their own freedom to choose -- one to life and love (in spite of suffering physical death at the hand of his brother) and the other to an aimless existence as a member of the living dead.
Ah, the bitter fruit of that tree in the garden ... and the sweet fruit of the second tree that would be planted thousands of years later to undo its bitter effects.
The Tree of the Cross and the Christian Vocation
The entire drama of human history has been played out between two trees. First, there is the bad fruit still falling from the one in that garden where the dreadful choice was made to reject the invitation to love. Then there is the second, planted from heaven itself on Calvary's Hill, where the living God, in the person of His beloved Son, both paid the price of the sin of the human race and offers us the path to authentic peace through the choice to love as He loves.
The choice that we are Christians are now called to make, at the foot of the Cross, is to be "our brothers keeper" and so much more. Those of us, who would stand under that tree, eat its fruit and respond to the great invitation of Jesus Christ, Love Incarnate, are now called to live "redemptively"- loving even our "enemies.
The disciple John in his first letter to the nascent Christian community provides great insight into solidarity, the mark of Cain and the Christian vocation:
"For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: we should love one another, unlike Cain who belonged to the evil one and slaughtered his brother. Why did he slaughter him? Because his own works were evil, and those of his brother righteous.
Do not be amazed, (then,) brothers, if the world hates you.
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death.
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth."
The choice of Cain was to reject his very purpose in life - to love his brother and to go beyond that - to recognize that all men and women are "his brother". In doing so he rejected the human obligation of solidarity.
The mark that he bore he passed on to the entire human race. It was a mark of aimless isolation but also protected him from further harm, so that he could find the path to redemption. This was the only way to undoing the consequences of that dreadful choice of fratricide.
The choices that we make not only affect the world around us -they actually make us. We become what we choose. The way to overcoming the wrong choice of selfishness is selflessness, choosing to love the "other" as another self.
The answer to the fundamental "question" that Cain mockingly posed to the living God is a resounding "Yes"--we are our brothers' keeper. The God who is love hoped for so much more from His creation. Throughout the unfolding history of His relationship with the human race He would continue to love and to invite, through the giving of the Law, the prophets and the giving of a Covenant.
In the "fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4 and 5) God himself would come among us as a man "like us in all things but sin." (Hebrews 4:15) Because He was Divine, He alone could redeem us; pay the price for all the wrong choices made by all men and women.
Because He was human, through His sacred humanity, He would show us a new way, the way of sacrificial love. The depth of that love would be revealed at the second tree where he would stretch out His arms and give Himself fully to those whom He had created and who had turned against the invitation to a communion of love.
Now, we who follow this "new Adam" (whom both the Christian scriptures and tradition reveal is Jesus Christ, in and through whom the new creation is borne) and are reborn through baptism, are given the chance to both make the right choice and invite others to do the same. We are invited into an even greater obligation of solidarity, the continuation of the creative and redemptive work of Jesus Christ, the Christian vocation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of solidarity:
"The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of "friendship" or "social charity," is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood. An error, "today abundantly widespread, is disregard for the law of human solidarity and charity, dictated and imposed both by our common origin and by the equality in rational nature of all men, whatever nation they belong to. This law is sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross to his heavenly Father, on behalf of sinful humanity." ...respect for the human person considers the other "another self." It presupposes respect for the fundamental rights that flow from the dignity intrinsic of the person....The equality of men concerns their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it....The differences among persons belong to God's plan, who wills that we should need one another. These differences should encourage charity.
The Sign of the Cross and our Mission
Now, in an age that has all too often chosen the way of Cain, we who follow Jesus Christ are called to both proclaim and demonstrate the obligation of human solidarity and more-we are called to live "redemptively" to bear the fruit of the second tree. We have been marked with a new sign, the sign of the Cross.
In our "post- September 11" world, we who are Christians in America have been presented with a "missionary moment". Something extraordinary has happened. That event that rightly shocked our world, revealing again the horror of fratricide, has also become a moment for grace. Millions of people, in response to that fateful day, have paused to reconsider the question of Cain "Am I my brothers' keeper?"
In his infinite mercy, the God of both Cain and Abel still extends the invitation to love. He also shows us the way. We were given real examples of lives poured out in sacrifice for others.
All of this has opened so many hearts and minds to discover the deeper truths of human existence. It may in fact be a new beginning, one whose story has yet to be written.
Those of us who bear the sign of the cross in this moment are members of a race who still bear the mark of Cain. They are being "protected" by a loving God who is inviting them to the new way of love. They need to see this path with their own eyes. We are called to show them the way. We are called to reveal the life of heaven on earth.
Christians are the ones who now have the greater obligation, to walk the way of human solidarity and more - to lead all those with whom we interact every day from the "land of nod, East of Eden" to the beauty of the new creation revealed in the One who stretched His arms out on that second tree and brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven.
That is the sign of the Cross. We reveal its deeper meaning when we respond to the invitation so aptly and simply stated by the Apostle John: "Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth."
This is the Christian Mission.
Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues. He is a features editor for Catholic Online and the Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/Founder, 757 546-9580
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