Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Holy Innocents

There are some feast days in the Church that are hard.
I suppose they all should be in a way...in that the term "feast day" when applied to a Catholic memorial, often and traditionally (but not exclusively, see Feast of the Holy Family, above) means the day of passing from this material world into everlasting life. It means death. But it also means a step into the most real life and the one that is eternal, with no suffering and glorious true union with Christ; therefore for that person - unspeakable joy.

And that is the prelude to today. Today is a double whammy, so to speak.

First, this post, we have to talk about today's feast day, this fourth day of Christmas: the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Or, I have to talk about it because I am out of sorts over it, in a blue funk.

I hate this feast day. It is so hard to wrap my mind around this one and it leaves me out of sorts, every year. My poor skills in communicating, much less writing coherently here, combined with the whole mystery surrounding this feast leaves me stuttering over words.

And yet, this is an important day to remember.

And as mom, it touches a very deep part of me in hurt and anger and sorrow. This part of the Mass reading for this day, it makes me cry:

Matthew 2:18
"Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation:
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled because they were no more."

Therefore, instead of stumbling along with my utterly inadequate words, I leave you with what I turn to: art and the writings of holier, more learned people. The art is posted, a few pieces. The words are below:

Matthew 2:16
"Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men."

"There is no easy explanation for suffering, least of all for the suffering of the innocent. St. Matthew's narrative, which we read in today's Mass, shows us the suffering, apparently useless and unjust, of some children who gave their lives for a Person and for a Truth whom they didn't even know."
In Conversation with God 1, Advent and Christmastide

"There is anguish for us, twenty centuries later, in thinking of the slain babies and their parents. For the babies the agony was soon over; in the next world they would come to know whom they had died to save and for all eternity would have that glory. For the parents, the pain would have lasted longer; but at death they too must have found that there was a special sense in which God was in their debt, as he had never been indebted to any. They and their children were the only ones who ever agonized in order to save God's life"
F. J. Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus

Painting by William Holman Hunt

This feast day, I halfway want to ignore it...certainly not talk about it, explain it. Is recognizing it condoning it? That's a nonsensical question but it springs into my head. It's that torn jumbley feeling.

But it's not that the Church made this stuff up, it's not a novel or a screenplay. It's real. It happened. It's not the Church doing revisionist history or some horror writer hoping to make a buck. It's biblical. It's horror. It's an historical event that makes us weep and cringe even today - because it is evil. It is face to face with unspeakable evil. And it is just too close for comfort. But, then again, evil usually is. That's part of it's whole package. It should make us shrink from it, and shake our heads without comprehending, asking "why, how" as we weep. But even the glory of Christmas, the birth of this baby, cannot be fully comprehended without the cross, and it was found and pointed to, from the very beginning. Go here, to an article by the excellent Amy Welborn for a worthwhile read on that.

"...these innocent lives bear witness to Christ who was persecuted from the time of His birth by a world which would not receive Him. It is Christ Himself who is at stake in this mass-murder of the children; already the choice, for or against Him, is put clearly before men."
Catholic Culture.org

"Oh God, on this day, the Holy Innocents gave witness to you, not by words but by a martyr's death. We profess our faith in words: grant that the holiness of our lives may confirm the witness of our tongues."
Collect of the Mass

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