Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 4:1-15.25; Mark 8:11-13)

The story of Cain and Abel has been noted as an anthropological explanation of the enmity between farmers and herders.  It can also be seen as a model for sibling rivalry.  Although we expect brothers and sisters to be the best of friends, they often compete with one another.  Reasons for the competition are not hard to imagine.  Each desires the parents’ utmost attention but often cannot achieve it.  Perhaps the last-born child receives inordinate affection because the parents are tired of disciplining.  Or perhaps the eldest through constant parental prodding becomes an overachiever whose accomplishments the parents cannot cease praising.

In the fourth preface for weekday masses, the priest prays that God has no need of our sacrifice.  Indeed, God does not ask sacrifices from Cain and Abel.  Responding to an instinctual impulse, the elder brother makes his harvest offering.  Possibly out of imitation, Abel serves up a lamb.  The text does not explain why Cain’s gift is rejected, but it is also not hard to suggest a reason here.  Too often sacrifices to God are half-hearted like the feeble Lenten penances that are abandoned before the end of the first week.  Also, as the old critique of Friday abstinence maintained, some people give up steak only to dine on lobster!

Cain reacts to God’s preference of Abel’s sacrifice by murdering him.  It is no impetuous act but methodically arranged to indicate the depth of the elder brother’s hatred.  As the Lord takes notice of the act, we discover what God most expects of us.  Beyond our sacrifices we must strive ever harder to live in peace with all our brothers and sisters.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Memorial of Saint Scholastica, virgin

(Genesis 3:1-8; Mark 7:31-37)

Although the serpent in the first reading is traditionally considered the devil, Genesis does not say it.  It may profitably be considered as the complex of desires which often clouds human reason.  People fall into sin after debating in their minds proposals that counter the principles by which they live.  Human desires conjure these proposals which often appear reasonable but whose half-truths are misleading. 

Nothing that the serpent tells the woman in the garden proves to be completely false.  God did prohibit the pair from eating of at least one of the trees.  When they eat of the forbidden fruit, they do not die immediately.  And their action does end in new knowledge making them less innocent and experienced.  These half-truths, however, masquerade the enormity of the offense which their desires for autonomy, immortality, and knowledge induce.

It is really an old story that has been refurbished many times.  Alice McDermott’s Child of My Heart gives a version of it. The novel tells of a teenage girl who lives with her parents near the beach.  When a sick cousin comes to spend the summer, the girl enjoys doting on the child so much that she refuses to tell anyone that her cousin has begun to hemorrhage.  The story, like that of the first humans in the garden, ends tragically.  The cousin dies prematurely because the girl allows her desires to get the better of her reason.