THE HOLY INNOCENTS
Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Jesus has just been born and already his life is threatened. The slaughter of the Holy Innocents is a stark reminder that the very presence of Jesus is a threat to our pride, ambition and independence.
The Gospel tells us that when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem they asked, "Where is the new born king of the Jews?" When Herod heard this he was greatly troubled and recognized this as a threat to his power and ambition. So assembling the chief priests and the scribes he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea." Then he asked the Wise Men when they had first seen the star. Then craftily working out the possible age of the child he ordered the massacre of every boy two years old and younger in Bethlehem and the vicinity.
How many Holy Innocents would there have been? Scholars estimate that since Bethlehem was a small town the number would be about 20 or 30. No matter the number one would have been too many. It shows that pride will not let anything stand in the way of our ambitions.
Once again we see that the Gospels not only reveal God to us, they also reveal us to ourselves. We see ourselves reflected in the people of the Gospel. In the Gospels we see the splendor and the squalor of human nature. In today's Gospel we see ourselves reflected in the person of Herod. Yes, there is a little of Herod in every one of us. We see Jesus as a threat - an intrusion into our lives - a threat to our pride, ambition, independence, and self-autonomy. So we hedge, trim, compromise. We straddle the fence. We do not fully commit ourselves. We spend our lives in the shallows and never launch out into the deep.
This is beautifully expressed in Francis Thompson's poem, "The Hound of Heaven." The Hound of Heaven, of course, is Jesus. The author feels this innate, insatiable desire we all have for happiness, and at the same time he sees Jesus as a threat to it. So he is running away from Jesus seeking this happiness in this, and that, in everything you ever thought would bring you happiness. And all to no avail. All the while the Hound of Heaven is running after him. Finally, in the end, the Hound overtakes him and he realizes for the first time that what he is running away from is the very thing that will bring him happiness. He gives the reason for his flight, "I thought that in having Jesus I would have to give up everything else. And now in Jesus he finds all that he had ever desired. "Seek first the kingdom of God and all of these things will be given you."
In thinking about the Holy Innocents I could not help but think of the millions of victims of abortions. Are they also Holy Innocents? What happens to them? The Holy Innocents we celebrate today were born in state of original sin, they were not baptized, they did not know Jesus just like these unborn children. Another example of how God brings good out of evil.
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