Cain slew Abel. Why? It all started with a sacrifice.
Actually it started with two sacrifices. Abel was a keeper of sheep and his brother Cain was a tiller of the ground. When it came time to offer up their bounty to God, Abel chose among his “firstlings,” the most prized livestock in his flock to sacrifice to the glory of God.
Cain, on the other hand, had a better idea and did not bring the same caliber of produce to the sacrificial altar as the story in Genesis instructs us. “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5).
We all know what happened next. Cain slew Abel in a foaming pique of resentment that resulted in the first murder of the Bible. More would follow.
Though the reason things turned out so badly for both Cain and Abel has everything to do with the consequences of Original Sin, it also points us quite decisively toward the understanding and nature of sacrifice.
By definition, sacrifice is the giving up of something with an innate goodness as a show of solidarity and love for God. In Cain’s case, his poor showing at the sacrificial altar incurred God’s displeasure, while Abel, giving up his most prized livestock, pleased God. In reality, Cain burning some vegetation that he really didn’t care about in the first place turned out to be no sacrifice at all and only managed to give the world the double-header of homicide and fratricide all in one fell swoop.
The two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus on Good Friday were not making a sacrifice.
First, they were both rather damaged goods and they were being executed according to the dictates of the era and the demands of Roman law. Our Lord, on the other hand, was the perfect sacrifice. The perfection of the sacrifice in Christ comes from his being both a completely innocent human being as well as being the Son of God. And although his execution was likewise being carried out “legally,” by virtue of his hypostatic union of the human and divine becomes the sacrifice of sacrifices.
The “good” thief, though not capable of making the same kind of sacrifice that Jesus was capable of, nevertheless did manage to receive an all-eternity pass to heaven via humility, remorse and God’s saving grace.
It might even be argued that the “good” thief was the first man on earth to take advantage of the sacrament of penance. Everything was in place, he admitted his sin, was truly sorry and asked the Lord to forgive him. And of course the “bad” thief was the precursor to the Enlightenment, when men would no longer need God’s forgiveness and the world was just a brutal, unhappy accident in the middle of the universe, and if it ends with you getting yourself nailed to a tree by the decree of a demigod in Italy, well, those are just the breaks of the game.
A sacrifice is only a sacrifice when someone either willingly gives up some thing that has innate goodness, or someone accepts pain and sorrow that comes to them from outside their sphere of influence, i.e. the death of a loved one by cancer or their own suffering through a disease process, and offers it up in love to God.
When a man, a heterosexual man, considers holy orders, he is faced with the prospect of some very serious sacrifice.
He has been made by God in an ordered universe which has naturally structured him to see women in a particular way and to have, if he had a fairly decent Catholic upbringing, a very strong interest in the sacrament of matrimony.
To freely give that up, to freely choose to serve God as the “father” to a different kind of “family” takes a tremendous ability to embrace sacrifice. We can never know, but just maybe as Abel watched his most valuable “firstlings” start being consumed by his sacrificial fire, he might have wondered what he could have done with that animal if he allowed it to live, how much stronger his flock would have been to have good breeding stock and so on.
Cain could not have been thinking similar thoughts as he watched his inferior produce go up in smoke. He knew all too well that what he was “sacrificing” was unworthy to begin with.
It was God himself who stipulated that it was not good for man to be alone. So in the Book of Genesis, God makes a man and a woman to be joined in a union that is equal parts physical and spiritual. And since the time of Cain and Abel’s parents, this has been a construct constantly honored and constantly favored by God.
To be a good priest, a man has to sacrifice.
The good ones I know — and contrary to the prevailing “current wisdom,” there are a lot of good priests out there — know how to sacrifice. They have sacrificed intimacy, companionship and that special bond that all good marriages are able to forge. The life of a priest can be isolating, another sacrifice, and those men who are able to deal with it best make the best priests.
It is precisely because a sacrifice is only as good as the thing that it gives up, that the ordination of homosexual men, even alleged chaste homosexual men, is, at the very least, problematic. The Bible is rife with married people. They are not always saints. Look up David and Bathsheba.
But the failures and sinfulness of biblical persons of the heterosexual persuasion never has a bearing on the man/woman marriage template. When homosexual proclivity is brought up in the Bible, it is in the most severe and disapproving manner. Look up Leviticus. Since 2,000 years of Catholic teaching has never taught that homosexual orientation is anything short of “intrinsically disordered,” then “giving up” something that is intrinsically disordered is not sacrificing anything at all.
And that is not the foundation from which to build a priest.
E.J. Taylor writes from