Today we pay tribute to the Holy Innocents
Reflections on the readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28, 2022): 1 JN 1:5--2:2; PS 124:2-3,4-5,7-8; MT 2:13-18
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They died though the wickedness of a corrupt king bent on destroying the Infant Jesus whom he feared would threaten his power.
In these days immediately following our joyous celebration of Christ’s birth, we face the shock and sadness not only of death, but of martyrdom. First through St. Stephen the first Christian martyr, and now through the merciless killing of babies, we see an even uglier demonstration of evil and violence. “When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.’ Joseph rose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt” (Matthew 2:13-14). In God’s plan for the salvation of His people, He assured the safety of His Son by having the Holy Family become refugees in Egypt. But human arrogance and jealousy led King Herod into the depths of sin. Enraged because the Magi did not tell him the whereabouts of Jesus, he demanded the death of boys under two years of age whose family lived in or near Bethlehem. Surely Herod told himself that this would secure his throne so that he could remain King of the Jews. The slaughter of the Holy Innocents would have been just one more awful act among many during his reign. From Herod’s history of viciousness, the suffering of these babies and their families would have meant nothing to him.
St. Augustine called these murdered infants, “flores martyrum,” the first buds of martyrdom. And from its earliest centuries, the Church commemorated and honored them. Neither they nor their parents willingly chose this martyrdom, unlike St. Stephen. Nevertheless, these babies did endure death for Christ. Of course, the Holy Innocents never knew that their Redeemer lived. Only when they were received into Heaven could they rejoice with the faithful people of God who have gone before us -- the saints -- in the whole glorious truth of Christ’s victory over both sin and death. The Holy Innocents are, so appropriately, acknowledged by the Church as the patrons of all babies. Let us not hesitate to ask them to look after infants, born and unborn -- and their parents as well. And let us make an effort to look out for the welfare of children in our communities who are threatened by harm of any kind.