The Gospel of Life, Chapter 1, Part 1

JP II, Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) Chapter 1, Part 1

In this part of the letter, the pope interprets the story of Cain and Abel. Then he unfolds his understanding of the “Culture of Death.”

WARNING: JP II presents us with an examination of conscience here which will indict just about everybody. Remember that God is merciful, He forgives the penitent, and He bings good out of evil.

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St. John on Cain and Abel

Beloved, 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. (I John 3:11)

Sin entered the world shortly after the creation. Immediately sin began to have its effect. We began to kill each other in the first generation.

Why did Cain kill Abel? Because he hated him.

Why did Cain hate Abel? Abel had done Cain no wrong. Except:

Abel pleased God with the sweet-smelling sacrifice of his own humble righteousness. Abel lived in peace, loving God and his brother. His simple heart beat evenly, without any disordered desire. Abel wanted nothing but to please God. From this, the quiet joy of his soul flowed out.

Cain lived in fear. He did not have the sweet-smelling sacrifice of his own righteousness to offer.

He had made compromises with the uprightness of his soul. Cain wanted to please God, but he also wanted to please himself. So he did not offer the best of what he had.

With Abel standing next to him, Cain faced a choice. Either do violence to myself, discipline my desires so as to give God my whole heart. Or do violence to the one who makes me look bad.

Now, the second option obviously makes no sense. What could make Cain look worse than killing his righteous brother? A sinner cannot expunge goodness from the face of the earth so as to stop looking bad by comparison. As the Lord said, “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!”

But that’s the thing. Sin doesn’t make sense.

That is, it always makes perfect sense from the limited and benighted point-of-view of the sinner. But the lies of the Great Seducer have obscured the simple truth from that particular point-of-view, replacing calm and reasonable honesty with the chaos of self-justifying passion and pride.

The hardest work in the world, the labor of our lives from the first dawnings of consciousness to our final breath, is this: To keep our eyes on the truth.

The way we came to know love was that He laid down His life for us. (I John 3:16)

Truth. Love. Crucified God.

Let’s keep our eyes on this, and then we will be able to see everything else.

Remembering All the Martyrs of Nero

We call Abraham our father in faith. For one thing, Abraham imitated our heavenly Father in this way: He was prepared to offer his only son in sacrifice. The similarity stuns us when we read, “Abraham took the wood for the offering, and laid it on his son’s shoulders.”

The human race has always known that we make peace with God by offering sacrifice. But, by the same token, we have also never been able, by ourselves, to come up with a truly worthy victim.

Again, in this matter, Abraham acted with pure faith. Isaac asked him, “Father, where is the sheep for the offering?” Our father in faith replied, “God Himself will provide the lamb.”

God provides the peace-making lamb, the victim worthy of sacrifice to the almighty, infinitely good Father.

And in His consummate love for us, God provides this worthy victim from among our own kind. We can boast now, like proud children: ‘Look, Father, we were worthless. But then a worthy man offered Himself to You on our behalf!’

Saints Peter and Paul, and the other Apostles, explained all this to us nearly 2,000 years ago, right when it all happened. Since then, the Lord, acting with the same consummate loving kindness towards us, has provided countless lambs for worthy sacrifice from among the Christian people. Namely, the martyrs.

The Burning of Rome by Robert Hubert
The martyrs did not choose themselves; a self-chosen martyr, in fact, betrays the Gospel.

But God ripened the time, at certain moments, giving certain Christians the consummate opportunity to bear witness. And they went to their deaths singing with joy.

God ripened the time like this in Rome at the dawn of the Christian age. His choice of location was no accident. The Lord, for His own reasons, chose the city of the emperors to be the perennial capital of His Church on earth. So He moistened the earth there with the blood of His chosen witnesses at the very beginning.

When we offer our peace-making sacrifice to the Father, we sometimes refer to Abraham and also to Abel. After Cain killed him out of jealousy, Abel’s blood cried out from the ground to God as an urgent prayer.

So, even though today we recall acts of great violence and the shedding of innocent blood, we rejoice. God has taken the malice and selfishness that led to this bloodshed and turned it to our advantage. God is greater than Pontius Pilate; He is greater than the emperor Nero; He is greater than all the evil and discord that rends the history of mankind. At the holy altar of Christ and His martyrs, we find peace.