The Story of Cain and Abel follows swiftly on from the Fall, and so begins the downward slide of the human race. It is a story that will repeat itself down the ages with terrifying regularity. It is the story of the jealous brother, be he unjust as Cain is, or supposedly righteous, as the elder brother is in the marvellous parable of the Prodigal Son. Abel is the eldest born of Adam and Eve, and a type of Christ. He is the first of the shepherds who foreshadows David the shepherd king, and points to the great shepherd, The King of King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Christ who is also the Lamb and the Victim. How did the Fall affect the human race in the person of Cain? It seems that Cain suffered in two areas. Firstly he was not whole hearted in his offering. Secondly he was jealous that God accepted Abel's offering and rejected his. God asks Cain "Why are you angy, and why has your countenance fallen?If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it." Cain isblinded to the truth of his sacrifice not being sincere, and all that concerns him is that his brother's sacrifice has been accepted, and his has not. He feels angry, and he feels hurt, but he fails to see that what is wrong is his sinfulness, his failure to love and honour God. He has, by his action, implied that God is not worth a sacrifice of love, and duty will do, even when done only efficiently. The mystery of God's love is lost on him, as it was on Adam and Eve, who were quite happy to disobey God for the sake of knowledge of good and evil. Their's was an intellectual sin, so to speak, whereas Cain's was a sin against what one might call formal religion. In that sense one wonders did Cain suffer from sloth, namely anything will do? And so God rightly says And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. its desire is for you, but you must master it".
Cain however does not wish to master anything. He wonders why his brother should be found blameless and he blameworthy. He does not wish to see himself as being in the wrong. He gives way to self pity, then anger and bitter resentment at his brother being found worthy, and he in danger of being overpowered by sin. He cannot believe that he is wrong, and there must be something wrong with Abel. Why should God love Abel more than him. This intoxicating and overpowering mix of emotions completely overwhelms Cain and he murders his brother, because he cannot stand anyone being more loved by God, than himself. He like so many millions of the human race miss the point, and miss it magnificently, if one could use such an adjective for such a terrible thing.
Why is it that so many people suffer from what used to be called the inferiority complex, and which no doubt passes by a completely different name now, which will sound scientific, and which I suppose is what some call, rather depressingly, a poor self image? The answer lies in the fact that Satan, Adam and Eve and Cain and so many countless other souls do not believe that God truly loves them. The truth is also that they have really not tried to find God, tried to do his will, and tried to love him. They are all suspicious of God and then become suspicious of each other, and so from a literary point of view you get an Othello, suspicious of everything that Desdemona does and puts the worst construction on it, because he has believed Iago, who is a superb personification of the demonic. Too often we are preoccupied with how we come across. Do people like me? Am I talented enough? I must be better than him. Well at least I am not as bad as her. I may have a few affairs but I am not promiscuous. He can't be as charming as me. She's not as beautiful as I am; is she? Why am I so ugly! People can't possibly like me. How can anyone possibly not like me? And so the whole dreary monotonous litany continues, not with the emphasis being on God or the goodness of others, but on "ME" purely and simply. To find a truly self forgetful person you need to look at some of the saints or some of Dicken's ficitional characters such as Nell and Little Dorritt. Some would think such characters unbelievable, but if they were to look at the life of Blessed Margaret of Costello they would realise how accurate Dickens was.
Blessed Margaret of Castello, was born into a noble family and her father Parisio,was the Captain of the People of the Commonwealth of Massa Trabaria, which meant that he was the leading man in the land, and his wife was called Emilia. We do not know Parisio's family name, which is understandable, because both he and Emilia were unfeeling parents, to put it mildly. Margaret, unfortunately was not the desired fine,strapping son that her Father had hoped for. Instead of a child who should have been the epitomy of masculine beauty, he found that the new born infant was a lame,deformed, blind girl. Parisio and Emilia were so shocked that they pretended that the child had died; so Margaret was hidden from the world, a veritable prisoner in the castle that was her home. When, through a chance meeting with a guest, Margaret nearly let the cat out of the bag that she was Parisio and Emilia's daughter, she was enclosed as an anchorite at the age of six at a nearby church aquarter of a mile from the castle. Then when the tiny state was attacked by the Duke of Urbino, Margaret and her Mother went to live elsewhere. Margaret was hidden again from view in what appeared to be a not terribly comfortable dungeon, and though well fed and clothed, lived the life of a prisoner. Finally she and her mother emerged from this strange seclusion when Margaret was about 21. By this time her Father decided a pilgrimage was the last chance for helping Margaret, and he and her mother took her to the shrine of a supposed wonder working Franciscan saint at Castello. Sadly the saint did not heal Margaret, and her parents simply abandoned her at the Church.
When the friar came to lock the Church at nightime, and told Margaret she would have to leave, cold comfort in the extreme, Margaret said that her parents would never dream of leaving her. Amazingly she did not think badly of this frighful couple, and that is the difference is it not? Cain thinks badly of Abel, the Just, whereas Margaret does not think unkindly of her parents. It is with relief that we find that the beggars, taking pity on Margaret, give her a temporary home, and if one might say introduce her unwittingly into Costello society. Soon the peopleof Costello realized that they had a saint in their midst. Margaret tried her vocation at a Convent of nuns, who were so irritated at her strict observance of the rule that in their jealousy the told her to leave and then maligned her for about six months afterwards. The people of Castello initially believed the nuns, thinking them to be good and devout and sadly showed Margaret their hostility, more covert than overt one would hope. Then the people came to their senses and realized that the nuns were lax and vindictive. From then onwards everyone wanted Margaret to live with them, and that is how she spent the rest of her life living with different families. She became a Dominican Tertiary and taught children, visited the sick and prisoners, as well as becoming a miracle worker. She was seen in ecstasy, her face radiating glory, while levetating about 20 inches above the ground while visiting prisoners. On another occasion she put out a fire with her cloak, and healed a young woman of blindness, and her early biographer said she performed many miracles, and then infuriatingly says she became famous in the land for her miracles and then fails to tell the reader about them, informing us that "Many other things concerning her sanctity should be truthfully told."
Why have I come up with a little known saint, who though she died in 1320 has still not been canonized (There is now a concerted push for this to happen by Catholic Pro Life groups in the United States.) when I have been dealing with Cain? It is, I think because Margaret is so utterly devoid of bitterness. There is no interest in self. There are some very human saints who can never quite overcome self love and are tempted to self pity, but there is nothing like this in Margaret's life. There is a wonderful humility and purity of heart. We are exhorted by St. Paul to always think that others are better than ourselves, but do we manage to believe it or is there some resentment somewhere deep down in our hearts, which in fairness we may try and suppress and even better try to conquer. Margaret through the experience of parents not loving her, had come, with the aid of her parents' chaplain to the realization that life would be a vale of tears for her, but that all that mattered was that she should love God with all the ardour of her being, all the love that she could give him, and at seven kept the strict monastic fast from the Feast of Holy Cross to Easter! When her father enclosed Margaret in her anchorhold when she was only six, she made this reflection to her chaplain on the day of her incarceration: "Father, when they brought me here this morning, I did no understand ---because of my sins---why God let this happen to me. But now He has made it clear. Jesus was rejected even by His own people, and God is letting me be treated the same so that I can follow Our dear Lord more closely. And oh! Father, I am not good enough to so near God!" The chaplain was, as you can imagne, dumbfounded. We too should be; sadly for most of us we will have more in common with Cain's self pity, his dented sense of self, his vindictive and vengeful feelings. Hopefully we will not act upon these feelings and kill somebody,but we might do something almost as bad, and go and destroy someone's reputation which can possibly lead to that person's spiritual death, which would be far worse than if we did indeed kill them. Margaret is a great saint, because she is so totally humble, self effacing and loving. Only by self forgetfulness and by keeping continually before our eyes Christ and his mysteries will we be able to avoid the despotic emotions of narcicisstic love overwhelming us and destroying us, and sadly others as well.