Every year in late December, emotionally hung over from the solid months-long celebration of commercial Christmas (I know, I know … it starts on the 25th. But try living in a house with small children and keeping Advent purely anticipatory) the Church presents to us a beautiful feast, fresh on the heels of the newborn Savior and filled with meaning.
The Holy Innocents.
Those small ones who gave their lives for His, in a very real sense, before He gave His life for us all.
It’s a chilling story, but not an unfamiliar narrative; a government drunk on power, enraged by the perceived threat of a competing power, lashing out senselessly and mercilessly against those without any power.
It’s also an apt metaphor for our modern day epidemic of death and destruction in the womb.
King Herod couldn’t stomach the thought of his slave population rising up against him, rallying around a prophesied messiah who would save his people and set them free. He read the prophesies literally, and he acted accordingly. The baby in question would destroy his perfectly planned and flawlessly executed plans, threaten his quality of life, and leave his very claim to the throne in question.
So he did the next logical thing, for someone operating out of fear (and perhaps no small amount of rage): he had all the babies who met the specs of the prophecy killed.
All male Hebrews, from birth to 2 years old. Slaughtered. Taken from their mothers and fathers and destroyed, because their very presence threatened his position, and because his lust for power and control was insatiable unto the point of blood. Rivers of blood.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but there are some definite similarities. And the victims are identical. Innocents, holy and blameless, made to suffer for the fear and choices and failings which are not their own.
Catholic tradition has a special place for these protomartyrs, held in such high esteem as to be considered to have died not only with Christ, but in His stead, by St. Augustine.
Think of the audacity of such a claim…and the truth of it. These little children did, in a real way, die in place of the Christ child, the newborn King. Safely en route to Egypt, shielded from Herod’s wrath by His foster father and His loving mother, Jesus lived that He might one day die in our places.
The Church still recognizes, perhaps in a way no other institution can equal, the humanity and the profound dignity of the unborn child, today’s martyr of choice.
Let us join our prayers this year on the feast of the Holy Innocents with the millions upon millions of child martyrs whose little voices were silenced by premature death, but whose souls rest in the loving gaze of a Father who desired them from the beginning of time, regardless of the length of their earthly stays.
All you Holy Innocents, pray for us.