Prayers for today: These Innocent children were slain for Christ. They follow the spotless Lamb, and proclaim forever: Glory to you, Lord.
Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, …
The Holy Innocents
Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few. Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and, warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt. Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah,/sobbing and loud lamentation;/Rachel weeping for her children...” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel. She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.
Twenty babies are few, in comparison to the genocide and abortion of our day. But even if there had been only one, we recognize the greatest treasure God put on the earth—a human person, destined for eternity and graced by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“Lord, you give us life even before we understand” (Prayer Over the Gifts, Feast of the Holy Innocents).
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (2: 13-18)
When the Wise Men had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: Out of Egypt I called my son. When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Matthew 2: 13-18
(H0mily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
Bethlehem was a tiny village in one of the world’s backwaters. What happened there would not have caused so much as a ripple on the general scene of the era. Yet unbeknown to the world a momentous event had happened: God had quietly become man there and was being nurtured as a tiny infant. He and his obscure parents had been visited by representatives from the East and they, having honoured him as a great King, had gone. These Magi had inquired of him from Jerusalem and from the wily King Herod, but Herod had heard no more from them. Thereupon Herod hatched an effective plan to destroy this infant Messiah who would doubtless threaten his future dynasty. So very quietly his soldiers arrived at the village, the nation knowing nothing of what was afoot. It may have been a party of ten or twenty — who knows! Swiftly, efficiently, quietly, the settlement was searched by the unexpected henchmen. Each home of the village and its surrounds was visited, entered and examined. Without more ado, home by home the boys under two years of age were dispatched, leaving a pall of life-long sorrow over various families of Bethlehem. But the eagle had flown! Not long before the terrible arrival — perhaps in the nick of time — Joseph was roused by an angel in a dream, and with the Child and his holy mother had fled to Egypt. King Herod thought he had snuffed out yet another threat, but the King of kings had been preserved. But what terrible harm had been done! Innocents had been quietly slaughtered and profound sorrow had suddenly descended upon obscure and helpless families. Where was God? What was he doing? Why did he allow this? Was he not capable of preventing such a deed? Look at the power of his hand. He had led the Magi from the East to the Child by a star. That was a prodigy in itself. He had thwarted Herod firstly by directing the Magi not to return to him to inform him of the Child, and secondly he had warned Joseph of the terrible threat that was so near. He had also told Joseph exactly where he was to go: he was to go beyond reach into Egypt. He could certainly have saved these Innocents and their unsuspecting families from such an evil. But he did not. He did not save them from death.
It can be very difficult knowing what to make of this. That is to say, it can be very difficult understanding the plan of God, for often his ways seem to be inscrutable. He saves one, but not another. He heals one, but not another. He accords the wishes of one, but not another. Our Innocents of today’s Feast died because of hatred for Christ, and the Christ-child was spared. We do not know why in the divine plan this terrible attack on innocent life was allowed, but till the end of time their unknowing sacrifice will be honoured by the Church. They are counted as “martyrs”, which is to say, as “witnesses” to the absolute necessity of Christ and his saving mission. The divine imperative was that the Child must escape. Their deaths at the hand of Herod manifested that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, the One whom Evil fears as its Conqueror. They show that all that matters in life is the person of Jesus, and that our lives serve to honour and glorify him. Whether we live or die, whether our success is great or meagre, whether our lives are counted as fortunate or not, what matters is that they bear witness to the truth and the glory of Jesus. If in the last analysis it will be said that Jesus Christ was honoured and glorified by my brief and poor life, then in all its poverty it will have attained its true and noble end. What would these Innocents have been if they had been preserved from such an evil as suddenly struck them? They would have grown up and lived out their lives as absolutely unknown villagers, lost in the total obscurity of history. But instead, for all eternity they will be counted as Martyrs — “Witnesses” to Christ — though uncomprehending at the time. By the decree of God their lives suddenly received a singular grandeur. The evil was allowed and the saving mission of the Redeemer proceeded. Let us live our lives striving to fulfil God’s will as it seems to be indicated. If mishaps, tragedy and disappointment come our way despite our prayers and appeals, the Holy Innocents show us that God has his plan for us. In all its difficulty and obscurity, our ordinary life will attain its grandeur.
If God is to be honoured and glorified by my life, there is one way to this and one way only. His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. May the holy will of God be done! As our Lord prayed in the Garden, Father, take this cup from me — but not as I will, only as you will. Mysteriously, suffering, deprivation and even death can be part of the great and wondrously effective plan of God. The Holy Innocents teach us that all that God does or deliberately allows will play their part in Christ’s work of redemption and sanctification. What matters is that we actively do and actively accept his will.