Today, right on the heels of the Nativity of Our Lord, we remember the horrible massacre of children who have come to be known as the Holy Innocents.
“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.”
Matthew 2: 16
I might add, that after doing an exhaustive google image search (well, truth be told it only took a minute,) for public domain images, I noticed that almost all of the ones currently in use are available over at the Holy Innocent’s Gallery, a project of the Star Quest Production Network, and Fr. Roderick.
Fr. Roderick and I go back a looong way on Facebook, and I know he won’t mind my linking to his site and his wonderful image library.
Hey Fr. Roderick! Merry Christmas!
Er… Fr. Allen, Fr. Ken, Kenny… Priest, USA, Facebook? OH. It’s not ringing any bells? Erm….
Well. Life goes on. Lord knows I’ve faced worse rejection.
But nothing as bad as the Holy Innocents had to deal with. Look at these artworks… and the cruel, vicious fate awaiting these poor souls.
Often in Sacred Scripture we’re faced with a great moment of salvation history, and somewhere around it we’re confronted with a great sadness, a cruelty, an injustice.
For instance, look at the Sorrows of Mary. The Flight into Egypt is seen as one of the sorrows, and yet it’s right on the heels of several of the Joyous Mysteries: The Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity …. then the portending of the Seven Swords which shall pierce her heart, followed by the Flight into Egypt.
We can also look at the time when Jesus was lost and who knew where he was? One can only imagine the grief of a mother losing her only child, and there was no doubt some of the hyperbole in her mind that he was the son of God; no doubt there was a bit of the reminder that people had already tried to do away with him via the Massacre of the Holy Innocents as well. A great sorrow indeed for Mary.
And right on the heels of that, we have a joyous mystery: Jesus is in the Temple teaching the scholars a thing or two about the nature of God.
So, the sorrows are always found limning the joys in Scripture, and we know that to be true in our own lives. Sorrow and joy often live side by side in the heart.
Scholars debate the authenticity of the Massacre of the Innocents, since the historian Josephus does not mention it. But being as Bethlehem was at the time a small town, it’s usually considered that the atrocity of Herod’s deeds was so terrible and awful, that the small town massacre of children did not make the books of heinous deeds which he had commanded.
I often wonder how long Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem. Herod killed the babes from 0 – 2 years old, based on the story and travel of the magi.
Perhaps people of the modern age should take a clue from Joseph and Mary. Herod listened to magi and was a model of self will run riot. Mary and Joseph sought to do God’s will, and listened to the visitations of angels, who sometimes spoke to them in dreams.
Today’s world, filled with horoscopes, omens and oracles, war, famine, abortion and the encouragement of self will above all other considerations, sees the evil of Herod amplified on a scale probably unimaginable in the days of Herod.
Lord, take our lives and our wills, and show us how to use them to do what you will. Lead us to peace, so that our loves may be examples of your power and might shining through us. Have mercy on the holy innocents of our day, and show us the power and joy awaiting behind the sorrows of our times.
Help us O Lord. We surely do need it.