The Holy Innocents

The Christian calendar is a curious thing. At times, it is an oddity.

Here are some examples.  After a day of feasting and family on December 25, December 26 commemorates the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

“The Massacre of the Innocents,” an 1824 painting by Léon Cogniet. Léon Cogniet/Musée des Beaux-Arts, via Alamy

And, tomorrow, on the Fourth Day of Christmas, the Church remembers “The Holy Innocents” (a great NYT op-ed on that here). These were the young male babies murdered by King Herod, the sycophantic puppet ruler installed by the conquering Romans.

Herod had heard that a “new king” had been born; he ordered the killings of all male babies in Bethlehem to eliminate unwanted competition.

I write about this because I was at the grocery store this morning, and I ran into our parish priest. He said it has been a tough week due to two funerals, one for a young woman who mysteriously died from pneumonia and, the other, for a combat veteran who overdosed (and, no one knows for sure if it was intentional or not).

He and I were chatting that human life is a retinue full of contradictions and ups and downs. The lives of clergy are full of this dynamic. They go from baptisms and weddings in one moment to last rites and funerals in the next. And, in between, they are advising and counseling people during moments of difficulty or unspeakable anguish.

I was never called to be a priest. I don’t think I could have dealt with all of those funerals and all of that grief, given my past.

But, as the Church calendar reminds us, we need to. Life is a never-ending cycle of joys and heartbreaks. And, we are called to live each day with intention and Mission and to do so for the voiceless, powerless, and forgotten, whether it be a good day, an average day, or an absolutely tragic one.

I think the op-ed writer says it best:

[We] live in a world in which political leaders are willing to sacrifice the lives of the innocent on the altar of power. We are forced to recall that this is a world with families on the run, where the weeping of mothers is often not enough to win mercy for their children. More than anything, the story of the innocents calls upon us to consider the moral cost of the perpetual battle for power in which the poor tend to have the highest casualty rate.

Leave a Reply