This year, the joy of Christmas has been tempered by great sadness. The unfathomable horror of the shootings within an elementary school in Connecticut, have shaken us all to the foundations of our faith.
We can take some small comfort, in the knowledge that as Christmas passes we approach The Feast of the Holy Innocents within the Catholic church calendar. This year that is December 28,2012. This day commemorates a similar tragedy that occurred around the birth of Jesus. (The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “It is impossible to determine the day or year of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. All we know is that the infants were slain within two years of the apparition of The Star to The Wise Men.)
When Jesus was born, King Herod became afraid that the ancient prophesy foretelling of the birth of a King of the Jews had come true. The Magi had entered his kingdom, telling of the star they had been following and inquired if Herod had knowledge of the birth. Herod consulted with his chief priests and teachers. “He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” [Matthew 2:8]
But as we know, the Wise Men did not return to Herod- because as we know, Herod did not have worship in his heart. Warned in a dream not to return, the Magi traveled another route home. “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or younger.’ [Matthew 2:16]
I do not dare to compare the massacre of The Holy Innocents to those unfortunate targeted victims of a crazed gunmen, but we can take comfort in a quote of Saint Augustine as he commented in his day on the former. “The death of these children is precious in the sight of God. For already at the beginning of their lives, they pass on. The end of this present life is for them, the beginning of glory. Those who [Herod] cruely tore from their mother’s bosom, are now justly hailed as infant martyr flowers- the church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during a winter of unbelief.”
We can interpret that these children from Connecticut, much like those Holy Innocents of biblical times, are now at peace in God’s loving embrace. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for it is to such as these, that the kingdom of God belongs.” [Mark 10:14]
God did not cause these terrible things to happen. Mankind has been given his glorious gift of freewill. To accept and seek God, not for fear of God, but because of a desire to love God; to please God and be with God. When these horrific things happen, God to is saddened. He joins with us in his tears and invites us to lay our grief and burden at the foot of his cross. The only place in times like this, where it can be left.
In the history of all of Christmas, there is only one Christmas Carol know to have been written to tell of the grief of The Holy Innocents. The Coventry Carol, written sometime in the sixteenth century, reflects a mother’s lament for the death of her child.
“That woe is me, poor child for thee- and ever mourn and sigh.
For thy parting is neither say or sing. Bye, bye, lully- lullay.”
Most merciful God, we cry out to you through tears. Just now, we celebrate the glory of your birth and are abruptly silenced by the evil that is brought upon us. Only in reflecting upon your promise of eternal life, can we once again secure a sense of happiness in such chaos. We pray you accept and embrace these littlest innocent lambs of your flock, for they truly are too- Holy Innocents. Grant your grace and comfort upon all who suffer from this senseless act, the parents and families, the community and those who responded to help. Reassure us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, that your are God. Amen.