I began this series “Union and Communion” with the consideration of the increasing isolation that people experience, especially in our country. I then looked at the Biblical account of Mary’s Annunciation and of Adam and Eve, and found that isolation is totally alien to our nature, to the way God intends us to be. Isolation is a distortion of our human nature, the opposite of what it means to be human, to be created in God’s image, because God is a communion of persons.

In “Spiritual Abortion” and “Improving On God’s Plan”. I showed that the root of our isolation is our mistrust of God. With the effects of original sin, that mistrust is deeply rooted in our nature, like a parasite that saps our spiritual vitality.

In this and in future articles, I will consider the various responses to God that are given by different persons, as shown in the Bible, and I will show that these responses still exist today.

Immediately after the account of the Fall, the Bible recounts the story of Cain and Abel:“Now the man knew 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. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”[1]

This is all that the text says about the offering made by the two brothers. We are given no explanation why the Lord “had regard” for Abel’s offering but “no regard” for the offering of Cain. In studying the text, we note that for both the brothers, the offering and the one who offers are linked: “Abel and his offering”, and “Cain and his offering”. God’s sees the person who wants to draw near to him and the offering that the supplicant makes as being intrinsically one. As I wrote in my article, “Wholly Sacrifice”, “When I hold out my gift to God, then that gift becomes a conduit of God’s being to me. The gift partakes of His holiness and that holiness flows into me. God, the gift, and I all share something that is essentially God’s. We give the name of ‘grace’ to this sharing between God and us.”

The account of Cain and Abel does not use the word “sacrifice”, but it is clear that Abel offered a sacrifice because it says that he “brought the firstlings of his flock”, and then it specifies, “their fat portions”. The fat portions of an animal can only be offered when the animal has been slain. Abel’s offering was a blood sacrifice while Cain’s was not.

Yet this still does not explain why God had regard for Abel’s offering and not for Cain’s. Abel was a shepherd, and he gave an offering from his flock. Cain was a farmer, and he gave an offering of his produce. Both of them gave of what they had. What can be wrong with that?

The Bible was not written in a vacuum. It is not simply a historic listing of past events. It was written in the context of the specific culture of a definite people: the ancient Hebrews, and this people had a detailed ritualistic understanding of “sacrifice”. The Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, has clear explanations of how to offer the different kinds of sacrifice and what they are meant to signify. We find that there are blood sacrifices, and cereal sacrifices, as well as libations. Each type of sacrifice has its own significance in bringing the offerer into a deeper relationship with God.

A detailed study of the various sacrifices lies far beyond the scope of this article, and I will go directly to what sets a blood sacrifice apart from the other forms of offering. In the book of Hebrews, it says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”[2]

Why is this? Why is blood necessary for there to be forgiveness of sins? Blood, for us moderns, is a symbol of violence and destruction. The shedding of blood is horrible! We see far too much shedding of blood, and we instinctively recoil when it is mentioned. Why does God demand the shedding of blood in order for us to come close to Him? Again, I go into this more deeply in the article I mentioned, but the answer can be given by another biblical quote: “For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood.”[3] Blood, which for us is a sign of death, was for the Hebrews a sign of life. The blood is what enables a body to live. A dead body does not bleed. The flowing of blood is a sign of life. That is why eating or drinking blood was forbidden: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.”[4]

The Book of Leviticus has precise directions for what to do with the blood of a sacrificial victim, and the most common direction was that it be used to anoint the altar or poured out at the foot of the altar. It was also used to anoint certain persons or items to consecrate them and make them holy. The reason for this becomes clear when we consider the meaning of “atonement”, for “it is the blood that makes atonement”.

I have read that “atonement” is the only English word that has found a permanent place in the vocabulary of theology. “Atonement” has the general meaning of satisfaction or reparation for a fault, but its deepest meaning is found when it is written this way: at-one-ment. The altar represents God. The animal that I offer for sacrifice represents me. Its blood represents life. For the blood of my sacrifice to be sprinkled on the altar of God or poured out at its foot symbolically unites my life with the life of God.

By offering a blood sacrifice, Abel was offering his life to God and in return he was making himself capable of receiving the life of God.

Cain offered what he had, the produce of his work. This is a very good offering, but alone, without the offering of his life, it is not enough for at-one-ment. To offer what I have makes me capable of receiving what God has, but God has nothing to give except Himself. If I offer what I have but not what I am, if I only want His gifts and not Himself, I am blocking Him from giving the only gift He has to give: Himself, His life. I have titled this article “Contracepting Grace”. To contracept is to block the giving of life. Just as there is Spiritual Abortion, so too, there is spiritual contraception. We see it in the Gospel account of Jesus’ visit to Nazareth, when, because the people knew him and his family, “they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house’ And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.”[5] They blocked His gift of life.

Spiritual contraception is not a total rejection of God. It leaves the person with the choice to go forward into a deeper relationship with God, or to withdraw into isolation, the isolation of Godlessness. This is clear in God’s words to Cain: “The LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”[6] We know what Cain’s choice was. The same choice is continually placed before us.

We will look at this in our next article, for it is the choice we face at every Mass, just as the people of Israel faced it at Sinai. “When Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do’…Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.’”[7] Blood is the sign of life, and sharing the life of God is the essence of the covenant that Moses made with the people of Israel. The blood of the New Covenant that we receive in Communion is the reality of sharing the life God. We can contracept that life, limiting it to what we want to receive, or we can open ourselves to be inundated with it so that we in turn can give life to others.


[1] Gen. 4, 1-5

[2] Heb. 9, 22

[3] Lev. 17, 14

[4] Lev. 17, 11

[5] Matt. 13, 57-58

[6] Gen. 4, 6-7

[7] Ex. 4, 3, 7-8

Image: Cain and Abel. Plaster cast after bronze (1425-1438) by Jacopo Della Quercia (1374-1438), Bologna, Italy. National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. By Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108205226

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Sr. Gabriela of the Incarnation, O.C.D. (Sr. Gabriela Hicks) was born in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in the Gold Rush country of California, which she remembers as heaven on earth for a child! She lived a number of years in Europe, and then entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Flemington, New Jersey, where she has been a member for forty years. www.flemingtoncarmel.org.

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