Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life

Some call it “the issue that just won't go away”. The national debate over abortion continues to rage and shows no signs of subsiding. Some simply do not want to hear any of it anymore, such as the woman who came into Church, took a copy of the bulletin, and said under her breath, “I'll take this to read in case they talk about abortion”. Then there is the politician who, in response to a letter about abortion, said he would not even consider the question of when human life begins. We have many ways of protecting ourselves from information that makes us uneasy.

So did Cain, who committed the first murder in the history of the world. “Let us go out into the field”, Cain said to his younger brother Abel. When they were in the field, Cain killed Abel. (Gen. 4:8). The Lord then asked Cain where his brother was. This was the most uncomfortable question Cain had yet faced in his life. How could he stand up to God and explain the murder of his own brother? It was an issue he wished would go away; it was a truth too hard to deal with. So, in a desperate attempt to dodge the issue, he claimed ignorance. “I do not know”, was his response to God. Then Cain want on to challenge God for asking the question in the first place. “Am I My Brother's Keeper”? (Gen. 4:9).

With these words, he tried to absolve himself of responsibility for his brother. Abel's whereabouts, his safety, his very life were not the responsibility of Cain! God, however, called Cain back at once to take responsibility for his own actions against his brother. “What have you done?”, God demanded. Cain wanted the issue to go away, but it wouldn't go away. It was his own action that took his brother's life. Yes, he is his brother's keeper by the very fact that he is his brother. His brother has rights which he must “keep”; that is, respect and, if necessary, defend. Cain had done the opposite. He held his brother's rights in contempt. He had no regard for his brother's very right to life. He tried to conceal his action by taking his brother into the field, where nobody else would see them. Yet God confirms that the deed cannot be covered over. “Listen”, God tells Cain, “Your brother's blood cries out to me from the soil!” (Gen. 4:10). The issue just won't go away.

We are our brother's keepers; this is not an option. Rather, it flows from our very existence as sons and daughters of one God in one human family. We have responsibilities towards one another, whether we like it or not. We have responsibility especially for the weakest and most defenseless ones in our society, the unborn, who are daily ripped apart in their mothers' womb by abortion.

We cannot claim ignorance of their whereabouts like Cain tried to do. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility to them, like Cain tried to do. We cannot make the issue go away.

A modern version of Cain's question “Am I My Brother's Keeper”? is the claim that we should “mind our own business”. Wouldn't that make life easy? We would not have to have any concern about the sick, the poor, the homeless or those with AIDS. We would not trouble ourselves about war torn parts of the world or economic injustice or exploitation of peoples and nations. We could just mind our own business. We would not need to hear about abortion, because the issue of justice to the unborn, and of justice to everyone else (besides ourselves) would just go away. We would have only our own business to mind.

Abortion is called an issue of “privacy”. We are told not to interfere. This is yet another attempt to absolve us of responsibility to our brothers and sisters. The fact is that the abortion decision does not merely affect the freedom of the woman making it. It is a life or death decision for the child in her womb! Our brother or sister's very life is at stake in the abortion decision! How can this be a “private” issue?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is ultimately the one who answers Cain's argument, “Am I My Brother's Keeper”? and our arguments about “minding our business” and about “privacy”. Christ is the one who teaches us in clear terms that we do have responsibility to each other, and that we cannot make the issue of injustice to our neighbor go away. For Christ declares to us, “Love one another as I have loved you”. (John 15:12). How did he love us? St. Paul tells us, “It is precisely in this that God shows his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). In other words, Christ took the initiative. He came to us and died for us before our asking Him and without our deserving Him. We were totally helpless. He acted out of pure love when He saw our need. He made our plight His business. He didn't hesitate for one minute; He didn't ask His Father, “Am I My Brother's Keeper”?

As Christ loved us, so must we love our pre–born brothers and sisters. We do not love them because they ask it or merit it. We love them because they are our brothers and sisters who need our help. Abortion is an issue that is solved not by wishing it away or ignoring it. It is solved only by active love. We are our brother's keeper.