Today we commemorate and remember those first martyrs of the New Testament era, the Holy Innocents slaughtered by wicked King Herod in Bethlehem. We may wonder why, in this “season of joy and happiness” we have in the Church Year the commemoration of the murder of St. Stephen, and then, a couple days later, the murder of young children. What a gloomy note to strike during this happy time! But one thing the Christian Faith is not, it is not unrealistic. It does not “make believe” that we can simply wish away evil, or ignore it. No, we deal with it, head-on, in all its brutal tragedy. These little children were slaughtered, while the Son of God, went free. Such it always is with the ways of Satan. He wants nothing more than to destroy and mar what God has declared good. And so, even at a very young age, the agents of Satan were coming after our dear Lord, but His time had not yet come, and God provided a way of escape. His Son escaped, in high divine irony, back to the land where God’s people had been enslaved so long before, and out of Egypt, God called his Son (Hosea 11:1). He called His son forth to come back to the land where He was born, in order to continue His divine mission of the salvation of the world.
The ancient hymn by Prudentius sings well what this commemoration of the Holy Innocents means for us:
Sweet flow’rets of the martyr’s band
Plucked by the tyrant’s ruthless hand
Upon the threshold of the morn,
Like rosebuds by a tempest torn;
First victims for the incarnate Lord,
A tender flock to feel the sword;
Beside the altar’s ruddy ray,
With palm and crown you seem to play.
Ah, what availed King Herod’s wrath?
He could not stop the Savior’s path.
Alone, while others murdered lay,
In safety Christ is borne away.
O Lord, the virgin-born, we sing
Eternal praise to You, our King,
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.
—Aurelius Prudentius Clemens (348–c. 413)
And we pray:
Almighty God, the martyred innocents of Bethlehem showed forth Your praise not by speaking but by dying. Put to death in us all that is in conflict with Your will that our lives may bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.