Summary: The massacre of the Holy Infants was a tragedy that God turned into a victory.
Holy Innocents Mass (December 28)
Thirteen Days of Christmas
Saint Matthew is the only evangelist who records what might be called the “Joseph Gospel.” He gives us the account of the angel appearing in a vision to Joseph, confirming Mary’s story that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. His Gospel tells of the visit of the Magi, the angelic warning to Joseph that caused the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and the angelic visitation that instructed him to return with Mary and Jesus to Israel.
Matthew relates the horrific tale of the massacre of the infants and toddlers of the Bethlehem area by King Herod’s soldiers. There is no need for skepticism about this incident that turned Bethlehem into an abattoir, that caused months and years of grief to the families of Bethlehem. Herod was made King of the Jews despite his support for Antony and Cleopatra in their war with Octavian–later Caesar Augustus. He was a half-Jew, so many of the Jewish leaders despised him, and he reciprocated. He was a serial killer, and even killed his wife, Miriamne, and more than one of his sons. So it’s not hard to accept Herod as one who would murder the children of an whole area in order to eliminate a rival. Even Augustus, not one foreign to murder, found Herod too cruel. He is quoted as saying, "I would rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son."
The Church honors these little ones as the first martyrs, even though they had not attained the age of reason and certainly were not baptized. Why is this? All who die for Christ are considered martyrs. The Church even honors them with beatification without a supporting healing miracle. How fitting it is that these children who died in Christ’s stead would be honored as saints in the Church of Christ.
Today is a day especially devoted to remembering child victims of violence. In my own life, I have lived through the murder of a grand-nephew, who was killed by a man now in prison who couldn’t stand the child’s crying. Thousands of children are murdered every week, either before or after being born. Some are killed merely because they are inconvenient, or have become a family embarrassment. Some are killed because it is suspected they have a birth defect, like Downs’ Syndrome. Let’s get real. If one loses the right to life because he or she is imperfect, who would survive? I was born with a messed-up nasal passage. Moreover, I was born out of wedlock–my mother was sent all the way from Chicago to San Antonio to give birth to me and have me adopted. I know if the law were different sixty or seventy years ago I would never have been born, and my thirteen lineal descendants would never have seen the light of day. When one murders another, how many other lives are made impossible?
The murder of the unnumbered children of Bethlehem was redemptive, because Herod’s lust for blood was satisfied and Jesus, the one who saved us all, escaped. But that does not excuse the crime or make the massacre any less tragic for the families left behind. And, today, there is no excuse for the crimes of abortion, infanticide or child abuse. Those who are responsible must repent, confess, and face the consequences of their crimes against humanity. May that day be hastened by the divine power, the merciful justice of the Author of Life.