In Our Day as in Herod’s, Holy Innocents are in Grave Danger

While not all of us are equally responsible, none of us is wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.

Léon Cogniet (1794-1880), “The Massacre of the Innocents”
Léon Cogniet (1794-1880), “The Massacre of the Innocents” (photo: Public Domain)

On Friday Dec. 28, we observed the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the young children murdered by the ruthless Herod “the Great.” In addition to ordering the slaying of all boys aged two and under after the birth of Jesus, Herod had numerous people killed over the years, including his first wife and several of his children. His fear that others might usurp or limit his power bordered on paranoia.

As his own death drew near (according to Josephus), Herod issued a decree that would ensure “sincere” mourning at his death: one member of every family was to be sacrificed in his honor. Herod’s final act as king was to rise from his deathbed and sentence to death a group of Jewish zealots who had removed an eagle he had placed over the entrance to the temple (they had thought the image a desecration).

Yes, Herod was a cruel tyrant and a heartless killer. Calling him “the Great” can only be a reference to his numerous large building projects throughout Judea and/or and to his establishment of the Herodian dynasty, which lasted more than 100 years.

The commemoration of the Feast of the Holy Innocents underscores the sacrifices of the first Christmas. Most people today are quite sentimental about Christmas, but the biblical experience was far different. It featured a 70-mile journey by a woman in the ninth month of her pregnancy, no comfortable accommodation in which to give birth, Jesus born in a dirty, smelly stable and laid in a feeding trough. Following that was the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt under cover of night to escape the tragic murder of the innocents ordered by Herod. There was nothing cozy about the first Christmas. There were no delicacies to savor, only crises to be escaped or endured.

Jesus should not have had to be born under such circumstances, thus our call to repentance remains. We humans caused this crisis at Christmas; it was a result of our own actions, our own insensitivity. Scripture says, He came unto his own, and his own received him not (John 1:11). This passage is referring to us. We’re the ones who had no room for Him in the inn.

While Herod may be said to have acted alone, we cannot evade all responsibility, for to some extent we all participate in creating and maintaining a cruel world where such ignominies routinely occur.

Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. While not all of us are equally responsible, none of us is wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.

Consider that most children today are not born into the stable family unit they deserve: a father and mother committed to each other until death do them part.

The problems often begin with fornication, which is widespread today. While most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. This is so primarily because of what it does to children. Most children conceived in an act of fornication are aborted. The ones who are not aborted often face a lifetime of challenges.

The overwhelming majority of abortions (about 85%) are performed on unmarried women. And for all the vaunted declarations of how the use of contraceptives would make every baby a wanted baby and would decrease the number of abortions, nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed with the increasing availability of contraceptives. It seems that widespread usage of contraceptives has fueled lust and enabled promiscuity, fornication and adultery. No method of contraception is 100% effective and so the huge increase in sexual activity has led to an increase in the number of abortions. The promises associated with making contraception widely available have been proven false. Not only has the number of abortions not decreased, it has increased dramatically.

Fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with death in huge numbers. The children conceived of fornication who do survive are often subjected to the injustice of being born into irregular situations (e.g., single-parent households).

Add to this picture the large number of divorces. Make no mistake, shredded families cause great hardship and pain for children: being shuttled back and forth between households on a regular basis, having to adjust to “Daddy’s new girlfriend” and/or “Mommy’s new boyfriend.” Second “marriages” lead to blended families in which the likelihood of abuse (emotional and/or sexual) is substantially higher than in intact families. An excellent book on the effects of divorce on children (including adult children) is available here: Primal Loss.

All of this adult misbehavior harms children. Not being raised within a traditional family dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many other social ills, beginning with poverty.

  • The chief cause of poverty in the U.S. is single motherhood/absent fatherhood.
  • 71% of poor families with children are headed by single parents.
  • Compared to children raised by married parents, children in single-parent households are
    • twice as likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
    • twice as likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
    • twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
    • 33% more likely to drop out of school,
    • three times as likely to end up in jail by age 30,
    • 50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
    • and twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves [*].

Added to the burdens that some children experience is the new trend of adoption by same-sex couples. Never mind that it is best for the psychological and emotional development of children to have both a father and a mother, a male and a female influence. No, what is best for children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. In the evaluation of potential adoption placements for children, heterosexual couples and same-sex couples must be given equal consideration. It is the “rights” of the adults that seem to matter most here; what is best for children is secondary at best.

Our culture has also sinned against children by sexualizing them. We are robbing them of their innocence at an earlier and earlier age by targeting them in marketing campaigns and by exposing them to all sorts of indoctrination and social experimentation. We also fail to correct and admonish children properly in many ways.

Again, not all of us are guilty of these things personally nor is each of us culpable to the same degree. We should further note that abortion is a complex issue; some women resort to it out of despair; others are pressured into it. However, all of us do contribute to this culture that is increasingly damaging and unjust to children, if not downright deadly.

If nothing else, too many of us (beginning with clergy) have been far too silent about these sins of injustice committed against children. Our silence is largely caused by the fear of offending other adults. Meanwhile the injustices to children pile higher, beginning with the body count of aborted babies and added to by the suffering of children who struggle to flourish in this poisonous culture.

When you think about the Holy Innocents, please think about this.

I put the following video together to honor these young martyrs. The musical setting is the hymn for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Salvete, Flores Martyrum, from Johann Michael Haydn’s Vesperae In F for Equal Voices, Soli and Orchestra. The group singing is Collegium Instrumentale Brugense. I would like to call your attention to a charming detail in the second verse, which describes the young martyrs playing with their palms (the symbol of martyrdom) the way young children will often fiddle with the palm branches distributed at Mass on Palm Sunday. So beautiful and so very human!

Salvete, flores martyrum,                    Hail, martyr flowers,
quos lucis ipso in limine                     on the very threshold of the dawn (of life)
Christi insecutor sustulit                    Christ’s persecutor destroyed (you)
ceu turbo nascentes rosas.                  like the whirlwind does the budding roses.

Vos prima Christi victima,                  You Christ’s first fruits,
grex immolatorum tener,                    a flock of tender sacrificial victims,
aram sub ipsam simplices                   right up by the very altar
palma et coronis luditis.                     now play with your palms and crowns.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,                             Jesus, to you be glory,
qui natus es de Virgine,                      who were born of the Virgin,
cum Patre et almo Spiritu,                  with the Father and loving Spirit,
in sempiterna saecula.                        unto eternal ages.