The Martyrdom of the Holy Innocents

On the fourth day of our Christmas celebration, the Church reminds us that not everyone is joyful; that there exist those who are not of goodwill who do not wish to receive the season’s glad tidings.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents in which the Church recalls and honors those baby boys whose lives were taken in a murderous rage by Herod who was frightened by the coming of the Christ. The Holy Innocents are numbered by the Church among Christ’s martyrs. The Baby Jesus was saved from this slaughter when the angel of the Lord warned Joseph of the danger.

“…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. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more’” (Matthew 2:16-19).

St. Augustine has this to say about Herod’s persecution of Jesus and the Holy Innocents.

“And while he thus persecutes Christ, he furnished an army (of martyrs) clothed in white robes of the same age as the Lord.

“Behold how this unrighteous enemy never could have so much profited these infants by his love as he did by his hate; for as much as iniquity abounded against them, so much did the grace of blessing abound on them.

“O blessed infants! He only will doubt of your crown in this your passion for Christ, who doubts that the baptism of Christ has a benefit for infants. He who at His birth had Angels to proclaim Him, the heavens to testify, and Magi to worship Him, could surely have prevented that these should not have died for Him, had He not known that they died not in that death, but rather lived in higher bliss. Far be the thought that Christ who came to set men free did nothing to reward those who died in His behalf, when hanging on the cross He prayed for those who put Him to death.” (St. Augustine, quoted in the Catena Aurea)

From the very beginning, the world rebelled against Our Lord and sought to kill Him, just like it did to His prophets before Him. In the years and millennia that follow His coming, the world continues its attack against Him by attacking His followers.

So, on this sacred Feast of the Holy Innocents, we honor their sacrifice and memory and we offer glory and honor to our God. But we are also called to learn from their lesson. These innocent children did not have to die. Their death was not God’s Will.

Satan and his evil designs continue to wage war against the Holy Will of God. Many have been lured into his evil. These innocent children died because their death was ordered by a powerful man who loved himself more than he loved God. Such men and women continue to attack the holy ones of God even in our day.

Modern Innocents

Since the mid-twentieth century, the rolling ten-year, average annual number of Christian martyrs has exceeded 100,000 killed per year and at times approached 400,000 killed per year. And this number does not include the vast number of children lost each year to abortion.

In the United States alone, surgical abortion has cost the lives of over 60,000,000 babies since 1973 and the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Surgical abortion has taken the lives of over 50,000,000 babies worldwide this year alone. Yes, these are innocent babies who were and are sacrificed on the altar of convenience and self-centeredness. The attack on these innocents originates in the depths of Hell. The numbers of babies killed are so large that they numb the senses. But we must not dishonor their lives lost by ambivalence.

We must not be ignorant of the historical fact that the world and all too many of the world’s governments are not friends of Christianity.

Refuge and Hope

The Church reminds us of this adversity on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, not to take away our joy and peace, but to prepare us for this life as pilgrims in a dangerous and inhospitable world. We are to take hope in the fact that God will take care of us, no matter what the world does to us, if we will surrender to Him, trust Him, strive to live according to His commandments and take refuge under His care. In turn, we should work tirelessly to defend and promote innocent human life in whatever way God calls us. Ask Him today in which way He wants you to serve.

Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, pray for us.

Into the deep…

The Mass readings for Christmastide: The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs are: 1 John 1:5—2:2; Psalm 124:2-3, 4-5, 7cd-8; Matthew 2:13-18.

Image: “The Flight Into Egypt” (detail) by Carl Spitzweg | Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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