Sin Couching at the Door

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Monday of the Sixth Week of the Year I
Genesis 4:1–15, 25


Cain's Fallen Countenance

The Sacred Liturgy sends us today to Chapter 4 of the book of Genesis: it recounts the first enmity, the first hostility between brothers. “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Gen 4:3-4). There you have the first indications of enmity: anger and the fallen countenance. The bile of enmity secreted in the heart makes for a bitter face.

The Beast at the Door

God himself intervenes to save Cain from further sin. “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 couching at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it’” (Gen 4:6-7). The whole psychology of sin is contained in these two verses. God reads the anger in Cain’s heart on his face and immediately offers him a way out of it. It is not too late for Cain to “do well.” God warns Cain of the sin that, like a wild beast, is couching at his door. Sin wants to devour Cain, but God tells him that he must “master it.” The taming of the beast! Master the beast of anger lest it overcome you and eat your heart!

The Sins Beneath Our Sins

You know the outcome of the story. Cain does not heed God’s warning. He is overcome by the wild beast of anger. “Cain said to Abel his brother, ‘Let us go out into the field.’ And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him” (Gen 4:8). The ultimate sin is murder but, looking under it, what other sin do you find? Anger. And looking under anger, what sin do you find? Bitterness. And looking under bitterness, what sin do you find? Envy and jealousy.

The Snake Pit of the Heart

Our confessions are often superficial; we confess the sin that lies at the surface, the obvious sin. We fail to uncover what lies beneath it. The true examination of conscience is an excavation of the heart. We are afraid of overturning the rocks of our sins lest we find under them a pit of hissing vipers. Never fear to expose the snake pit of the heart in confession. As soon as the light of Christ strikes it, the snakes are driven out, but to uncover the pit, one sin after another must be overturned. The story of Cain and Abel teaches that the root of enmity lies, more often than not, in jealousy. Jealousy breeds resentment. Resentment breeds anger. Anger breeds violence. Violence escalates into murder.


You may not think that you have enemies, or you may think that your enemies are all ghosts of the past, ghosts who will never come back to haunt you. An easy way to avoid obeying the command given us by the Lord today is to deny that we have enemies. But enmity, in varying degrees, is part of the human condition. Go to prayer then, assuming that you have enemies now and have had them in the past. No one is spared enmity in this life. Go to prayer, remembering those faces and names from the past that bring with them a twinge of pain, a feeling of hurt.

Praying Through the "E" List

When you pray, remember to look at your “E” list (“E” for enemy), the list of those with whom you are at enmity, and even of those you imagine hate you. Imagined hatred is as poisonous to the one imagining it as is real hatred. Trust God to sort out the real from the imagined. Name your enemies before God; that is the first step in loving them. The merciful Christ will himself bring to perfection the prayer he commands. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:45).


What an excellent post. Wonderful teaching.

Sacred Scripture comes to life and grasps at my heart. Your explanation of the reading makes it so special. It shows me how I really am not attentive to the message given at Mass and I must make an effort to prepare more, listen more and live what is given at Mass in the Gospel.
Thank You for the fruits of your contemplation.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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