I Am My Sister’s Keeper

Detail of the dead Abel on a Romanesque capital from the choir, now displayed in the chapter house. It depicts a moment in the biblical story of Cain, who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. Here God asks Cain where his brother is and he replies, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain puts his hand on his hip in a gesture of defiance. Behind him, the feet of Abel's body can be seen sticking out of the bushes, revealing the true answer to God's question. Around the corner on the side of the capital is the rest of Abel, lying among plants with his eyes closed.

“Where is your brother Abel?” The Lord asked Cain.

Cain, the first child born on earth, had killed Abel.

I can imagine God’s anguish. “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

“In the story of Cain and Abel, we see how envy led Cain to commit the ultimate injustice against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between Cain and the earth,” Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical on Care for Our Common Home.

As I look at how we have abused our common home, I feel God’s anguish and am asked the same question, “What have you done?”

Centuries ago Francis of Assisi called the earth Our Sister. “This sister now cries out to us,” Pope Francis writes, “because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

Our complicity in this is big and too painful to conceive. I am my sister’s keeper.


You’re still reading this post? You’re brave! Many would have quit at the first niggling of guilt and remorse. We don’t want to face what we’ve done to our sister Earth. I know I don’t.

Will I, like Cain, turn away from God and deny my guilt? Or will I allow remorse to turn me to God? And could I, as Pope Francis suggests, “turn what is happening to the world into my own personal suffering and thus discover what I can do about it”?

Imagine what would have happened if Cain had allowed remorse to do its work? He would have flung himself into God’s arms, like a child, and wept.

And God would have held Cain and comforted him. God would have understood why he did it, without minimizing the injustice. And then, once Cain knew he was loved and forgiven, they would have talked about a way forward.

I like the thought of moving forward, so I kept reading the encyclical with one thought in mind: Tell me what to do.

But God wasn’t in a hurry to give me a “to do” list. Receiving forgiveness cannot be rushed, and premature action interrupts the process.

God wants me to do something. No question about it. But I need to do it for my sister, not to save myself from feeling bad.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy on us.

Wheat FarbenfroheWunderwelt

Credits and references:
Photo of sculpture of Cain, Cathédrale St-Lazare, Burgundy, France by Holly Hayes. Used with permission.
“Earth in the Hands” by Arthur Rowan. Used with permission.
Genesis 4:1-10
Quotes from Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home #70, #2, #19.
“Wheat” by FarbenfroheWunderwelt. Used with permission
© Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim, 2015.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission from Esther Hizsa is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided there is a link to the original content and credit is given as follows: © Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim 2013, 2014, 2015.  http://www.estherhizsa.wordpress.com

About Esther Hizsa

Esther is a spiritual director and writer. She lives in Burnaby with her husband, Fred, and they have two grown children and two grandchildren.
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3 Responses to I Am My Sister’s Keeper

  1. Jeff Imbach says:

    Esther, this is so brave and challenging and yet tender and hopeful. Thanks for your courage to name how even our remorse can turn us toward God and healing rather than away. I think we are often afraid to face our remorse and link it with guilt from our religious past. The desert fathers and mothers call it compunction and are grateful for the gift of tears. You have modelled this in a beautiful way here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Bone of My Bone, Flesh of My Flesh | An Everyday Pilgrim

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