The joy of the Christmas season (day 4) is again rattled as we remember the lamentations of Rachel in the massacre of the Holy Innocents. As the Messiah enters human flesh so suffering lies in his wake. And who more innocent than children designated for slaughter just because they were babies in the same city as the Savior’s birth. Remembering these first martyrs of the Church, in the midst of the joyful 12 days of Christmas, provides pause for layers of reflection.
Emmanuel — God with us – takes on human flesh in the form of a helpless infant. Likewise the Church takes root in the blood of its martyrs, with the Holy Innocents forming the first in a long chain of suffering. What is it about children and child-like faith that witnesses to us?
“Suffer the Children to Come unto Me…”
Children trust completely; their survival depends on this. If they are blessed to be welcomed into a loving home, they have good cause to trust. But we know we live in an age broken by abortion, abuse and neglect. What more tragic that these holy innocents who suffer today? Herod’s bloody attacks continue in more subtle forms:
* Messages that tell women that sex outside of marriage is “healthy,” and that they have “freedom” to murder unborn children who arrive at an inconvenient time.
* Messages that encourage women to disconnect their life plans from the natural urgings of motherhood, and pay-scales or aspirations that lead parents to allow their children to be cared for more by strangers than by their own families?
*Messages that force early “independence” upon childhood, whether nursing, sleeping, going off to babysitters, daycares or schools – regardless of a child’s readiness.
How rare is it in our dominant culture to hear the message of sacrificial love for those holy innocents in our midst?
The Faith of Children
Children do not live under the illusion of self-sufficiency. They know they need others to survive, to meet their needs. They have to rely on trust.
This is what Jesus calls us to in our faithlife: a child-like trust. If we “let go and let God,” as the saying goes, we open ourselves to a whole new way of being in the world. Instead of anxiety, we would develop patience. Instead of fear we would live hopeful and watchful lives. Instead of arrogance we would develop deep humility – the day-to-day, moment-to-moment kind which helps us understand the true meaning of the prayer “in you we live and move and have our being.”
St. Augustine’s Prayer for the Holy Innocents
St. Augustine called the Holy Innocents the “Church’s first blossoms.” How good for us, in our age of confusion regarding how to truly care for the holy children in our midst, to reflect on how cold-hearted the messages regarding children can be in our current culture — one as murderous at times as those of Herod:
“Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers’ womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief. “