The sacrifice of Abel ascends in a cloud of smoke to Heaven. In seeking the very best as an offering, Abel’s sacrifice is pleasing and acceptable to God. Whereas Cain has offered a sacrifice of second best and poor quality; the smoke instead of rising to God “as a cloud of incense” is getting blown back into his face! Oh dear!
What may we learn from the metaphors depicted here? Why was Abel’s sacrifice pleasing and Cain’s rejected? How can we use this early biblical story of Cain and Abel as a lesson for us in our day?
We are well acquainted with the first and most important commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength”, and Our Lord repeats its primordiality in the Gospels. This goes to follow that our whole lives should be orientated towards offering the best of our poor limited selves for the greater glory of God, both in the important thoughts, words and deeds that we find difficult and require great sacrifice, to the small and trivial.
It is also why when we celebrate [both by the priest and the congregation] the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it should be in the most beautiful and reverent way that is humanly possible for the greater glory of God. Our prayer life, beginning with our ‘morning offering‘ when we awake, should be planned and ordered – and not just something to do ‘when I have time’. “Feel often during the day the need to turn to God in prayer” says St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. In other words, don’t let all the humdrum busy-ness of life obscure what should come first – our love of and obedience to God.
Yet Our Blessed Lord tells us that even these above-mentioned “small and trivial” things, such as a cup of cold water given to someone in His name, will not go unnoticed by our Heavenly Father! We have the freedom, we have the choice, to either accept or refuse to offer ourselves to God or to our selfish inner selves in every waking moment of our day.
In his book “Interior Freedom”, Fr. Jacques Philippe says:
“Our freedom always has this marvellous power to make what is taken from us—by life, events, or other people—into something offered. Externally there is no visible difference, but internally everything is transfigured: fate into free choice, constraint into love, loss into fruitfulness. Human freedom is of absolutely unheard-of greatness. It does not confer the power to change everything, but it does empower us to give a meaning to everything, even meaningless things; and that is much better. We are not always masters of the unfolding of our lives, but we can always be masters of the meaning we give them. Our freedom can transform any event in our lives into an expression of love, abandonment, trust, hope, and offering.”
In each of the people that touch our lives (yes, even those whom we only know through this strange media of the internet) we should see the beloved Face of Christ, offerng to God, and through Him to our neighbour, the very best of ourselves.
“If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him. If you cry with Him, you will have joy with Him. If you die with Him on the cross of tribulation, you will possess the eternal dwelling place in the splendour of the saints. And your name, written in the book of life, will be glorious among men” says St. Clare of Assisi.
What a lot we can learn from the saints! How well they knew how to use their time on Earth as an offering of undivided love for God, casting aside selfishness, sloth and vanity. We admire them, yet still feel we could never achieve such heights ourselves. I know I continually find I am offering a ‘Cain type of sacrifice’ to God, sometimes just seconds after vowing to Our Blessed Lord that I shall never do so again! This is so frustrating; it could easily lead me (us ?) to give up even trying. But the saints are mostly ordinary people; perhaps some of them overcame greater temptations and interior suffering than we could ever imagine possible. They simply never let the Devil lead them to despair as they grew daily in holiness and humility.
In our efforts to offer an ‘Abel-type of sacrifice’ as often as possible, we could do no better than to sincerely pray with St Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face her ‘Act of Oblation’:
Offering of myself as a Victim of Holocaust to God’s Merciful Love
O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make You Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be a saint but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! To be Yourself my Sanctity!
Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.
I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! The love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the days of His mortal life: “Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name He will give it to you!” I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! That the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.
I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of You to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.
I thank You, O my God! For all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.
After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.
In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved! Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.
In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I Offer Myself as a Victim of Holocaust to Your Merciful Love, asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!
May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.
I want O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!