Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

It's been a long time since I've posted anything, as I'm living life with an infant again, and if you don't remember those days, well, there's just not a moment to spare. But I just put the little lamb down to nap and since I've intended to post this here for several days, I decided to take a moment. My brother Jeff is in the deaconate program and is at a little parish in Maryland where he helps the parish priest a lot. He and my sister-in-law, Jane, recently went on a pilgrimage with the parish priest to the Holy Land and he brought back a lot of photos and probably just as many deep thoughts. I share this piece that he wrote because it clearly resonated with me, and I have a feeling it will resonate with you as well.

DANIELE da Volterra
The Massacre of the Innocents

The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

by Jeff Johnson

The above pictures were taken on separate days with the pictures on the outside being taken in Caesarea while the one in the middle was taken at the Church of the Visitation.  I know the two seem totally unrelated, but they weren’t in my mind.  As I viewed what was an architectural wonder of its time, the port of Caesarea and the theatre which was built adjacent it, I wondered how Herod the Great, responsible for this achievement, could then be so misguided as to order the murder of dozens of children in Bethlehem to kill the child who was to become the Messiah.  This was the same sentence that Pharaoh, fearful of the growth of the Israelites, had ordered on newborn Jewish boys around the time of Moses’ birth.  It is amazing (and frightening) the actions that these monarchs were willing to take for the sake of preserving their thrones.  A personal thought on this for me is that Jesus Christ is more important than anything else in the secular world.  When I remember to put him before “everything else”, “everything else” amazingly (or not so amazingly) falls into place.  But back to the Innocents.  
For the longest time, I never knew that the Christmas song “Coventry Carol” chronicled the murder of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.  But the lyrics make it clear –
“Herod the King
In his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight
All children young to slay
Then woe is me
Poor child for thee
And ever mourn and say
For thy parting
Not say nor sing
Bye bye lullay lullay
Lullay lullay
My little tiny child
Bye bye lullay lullay”
Saint Quodvultdeus, a father of the Church and former bishop gave an excellent commentary on the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  He noted “The children die for Christ, though they do not know it.  The parents mourn for the death of martyrs.  The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself.  See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king.  See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the saviour already working salvation.    But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious.  While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.    How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory?  They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.”  This event was foretold in Jeremiah 31:15 wherein the prophet said “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly: it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”
As a child, I can still remember my reaction when I learned of this awful killing.  I was shocked and in disbelief that anyone could order the death of innocent children.  But, times were different then – no?  The answer is of course, apparently not.  I could not help but think about the wanton disregard for the sanctity of life that exists in our current age as I pondered Herod’s crime.  It’s not as if this was “a sign of the times”.  The Didache, an important first century document that provided guidance for early Christians instructed “Thou shalt not slay thy child by abortion, nor kill that which is begotten".  Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who chronicled the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 wrote “The law, moreover enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing humankind."  How can it be that the Church understood this better almost two millennia ago then it is understood in society today?  

I know that definitions (of when life begins) and relativism have played an important role in confusing this issue.  For many years, there has been debate about when life begins - at conception, when a fetus is formed, at birth, etc.  I have never quite understood this debate.  Life clearly begins at conception because any point after that requires intervention to stop the growth of that life.  Ultrasounds conducted early in pregnancy show a life that is growing.  Thanks to modern medicine, we all understand that from the moment of fertilization a life has been spawned that will be born in about nine months.  There can be no debate on this issue of definitions.  I also cannot understand relativist arguments on choice.  Truth is not relative.  A relativist view of “it’s not for me but I don’t want to choose for others” is an enormous cop out.  We either believe in the sanctity of life, or we do not.  There is no choice – we choose life, or we choose against it.  Now, the debate on what to do about unwanted pregnancies is more complicated than this piece alone - there needs to be compassionate means to provide for the life of the child.  But, if we can get past preserving the life, I think we can work through the other aspects as well.  We MUST work through it.  For all the revulsion against Herod over the killing of the Bethlehem babies, we are allowing a more heinous crime to occur legally across the US – (one every 30 seconds counting only surgical and medical abortions).  

I ask, brothers and sisters, as we begin a new year, that you join me in prayer to ask God to show us how he wants us to help end abortion.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.  

1 comment:

I appreciate your comments -- sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself!