Feast of the Holy Innocents ~ The Rev. Dcn Dollie Wilkinson, OPI
Imagine, if you will, that you are a young couple, who, like most young people your age, find out that you are expecting your first child. Whether you have tried to have children, or this is an unexpected gift, doesn’t matter. Just the fact that you will soon welcome a blessed addition to your family, should fill your heart with joy. I have a niece who was told she would never have children, who now has suddenly discovered she is pregnant. I cannot imagine the joy, and fear, this young soon-to-be (hopefully) mother must feel. Yet, I can. After the birth of my first daughter, I suffered a miscarriage. I was blessed to have another child, a daughter, just a couple years later. But I will always remember the loss of my second child, even if I never gazed upon his (or her) sweet face. This is a tragedy that wounds a mother deeply.
But there is another loss that is even more heart-breaking. I know my niece will welcome her baby boy (or girl) with gratitude and love. Sadly, if this dear child is a boy, he will be taken from her arms before his second birthday. Or he would have, if he had lived during the time of King Herod. Losing a child from miscarriage is hard. But to give birth to a child, then have this precious one snatched away from you, whether by illness, tragedy, or in the case of Jesus’ time, by the decree of a tyrannical king, is almost too terrible to imagine. Yet, it happened to many new parents of this time.
Today, dearhearts, we celebrate the feast day of those children who were snatched from their Mothers’ arms, as the Gospel tells us, by the very cruel king, Herod. According to Mathew 2:1-18, Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” The Magi found Jesus, offered him their gifts but warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. As detailed in Matthew 2:16, King Herod then ordered all young boys in Bethlehem, who were two years old and under, to be executed in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus. However, an angel warned Jesus’ parents and they fled to safety in Egypt.
“Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi.”
Some believe that the children who were killed were the first Christian martyrs. Today, the Feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated in churches worldwide. It is also called The Innocents’ Day or Childermas or Children’s Mass.
Today, we offer prayer for those innocent children who were slaughtered. By no fault of their own, by the fact that they were born male, and because a cruel man decided this must be done, these young souls were taken from their parents way too soon. I am thankful every single day for the blessed gift of my daughters. To have a child, whether boy or girl, but to then have someone decree they must be put to death, well I cannot imagine the heartbreak their parents must have experienced. Let us today, and always, remember these young children, the Holy Innocents.
“Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers’ womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod’s cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers’ bosom, are justly hailed as “infant martyr flowers”; they were the Church’s first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief.
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