A couple of days ago, we celebrated the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. Today, we celebrate the feast of the holy Innocents who, in a very real sense, were the real first martyrs. As you know, the holy Innocents were untold numbers of infants killed on orders from King Herod after the Magi had told him of the birth of the expected Messiah. The Church has venerated these unnamed children as martyrs for they died for Christ, in Christ’s stead.
I found myself meditating on Herod today as I read the Office of Readings. St. Quodvultdeus was the patristic writer of the second reading.
Quodvultdeus asked the question, “Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children…… You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart.”
I am thinking about the anger and rage that are so prevalent in our society today. Herod was consumed with anger and rage. It’s source was unfounded fear. How often do we struggle with fear, fear that can lead to anger and rage? I have seen the consequences of this very thing time and time again in my clinical work, in the lives of so many patients. Fear. Fear of loss of status, security, esteem. Fear that renders one a slave of one’s emotions and in turn evolves into patterns of behavior that only hurt the most vulnerable.
Our society is in the grip of fear. We do not see the truth. Our focus on fear leads to the death of innocent lives. A poignant example is the tragic loss of civilian lives in combat zones. Another example is the millions of unborn children aborted out of fear of the future or the past. The execution of scores of criminals because we fear them and are caught up in anger, rage, the demand for revenge. The horrible reality of domestic violence that speaks of inner fear, insecurity, anger, and the perceived loss of face.
The feast of the holy Innocents, as tragic as their martyrdom was, reminds us that it continues today, and not far from our own homes.
Listen, if you will, to their cries….. the abused women, the aborted babies, the victims of terrorism and war, the emotionally and physically abused children in our midst.
Listen and weep. God does.