Holy Innocents 2013

Those who don’t have children of their own are inclined to be sentimental about the children of others — provided they remain at a safe distance, of course. At Christmas such sentimentality is not only indulged, it is almost obligatory. We are invited to become misty-eyed at the thought of children hanging up their stockings for Father Christmas or coo and goo over Nativity Plays where the actors are barely three feet tall and Baby Jesus is all blue-eyed plastic perfection. Then comes the feast of the Holy Innocents and our sentimentality is ripped to shreds by the brutal fact of child murder.

Why does this feast come before Epiphany, when, chronologically speaking, it should follow after? The answer is that the Holy Innocents gave their lives for the Infant Saviour and their feast is therefore included among those of the Christmas Octave so that the link between the two may be more clearly seen. It is a disturbing feast, turning upside down our ideas about the special status of childhood and the protection every adult should afford every child.

In the Catholic Church this feast is often appropriated to two causes: the pro-life, anti-abortion movement which seeks to put an end to abortion and the situations that make it ‘necessary’ or ‘desirable’; and the attempt to end the evil of child abuse (especially sexual abuse) and exploitation. Both are, in my view, very worthy causes, though I sometimes hesitate over the methods adopted by some groups. What I find difficult, however, is the way in which appealing to the Holy Innocents as patrons of these causes dulls our sense of outrage at the original event. What was God thinking of to allow such a horror?

There is no easy answer to such a question, but unless we take on board the scandal of this feast, I think we are failing to take on board the enormity of the Incarnation. When God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, he overthrew every previous notion about God. The feast of the Holy Innocents urges us to rethink our own ideas about him, which may well have become tinged with some of the sentimentality I wrote about earlier. We are confronted with a God who is above and beyond anything we can think or imagine. Our only certainty is that he loves us, loves us enough to become one of us and suffer and die for us. The little children slain by Herod may be to us a type, an abstract of innocence, but to him they are individuals, chosen and precious in his sight. Thinking and praying about that may teach us something we never knew before.


2 thoughts on “Holy Innocents 2013”

  1. Having difficulty getting my mind round all this. To the question of what was God thinking to allow such a horror, the question arises for me (which is not where your question was leading perhaps but is where I am stuck) of how do we find ourselves still today in the midst of the greater and ongoing holocaust of abortion, where children are literally ripped from their mother’s womb at will. I want to ask where is God in this?

    But what and who is God? Some days I feel I am closer to knowing than not knowing. Today in considering our difficult topic, less so.

    I, in the smallness of my understanding, think of God as love, mercy, justice, and such virtues, and where these are absent, and replaced by things awful and ominous, there God is not. The awful and ominous are found in men’s (and women’s) hearts and actions. God is goodness. We can be good but often are not. Comes down to our being free to choose. But I wonder if it wouldn’t be better if we were less free but more good. But alas that is not how the story is told.

  2. As Margaret asks “Where is God in all this?” The gift of free will being the double edged sword it is, we choose to place God before all – or not, to serve God or serve our own self-serving inclinations, money, power. I am alive today because my father would not permit me to be aborted, my friend’s newborn grandson, a healthy robust child safely delivered of a high risk pregnancy followed to conclusion in faith, despite the stress of the waiting. In the end we have to ask ourselves who do we put first, who do we serve, and if not God, then what are we journeying towards?

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