Exactly two weeks ago many young children lost their lives in a cruel and horrifying shooting in Connecticut. I do not need to remind any of you of the detail. They are seared in our memory.
Today, we observe the feast of the Holy Innocents, a feast commemorating the young children, of even younger age who were cruelly murdered by the paranoid and crazed killer known as Herod “the Great.” So paranoid was he that others might usurp or limit his power that he killed three of his own sons, and his wife. He ruthlessly killed many others as well. As his own death drew near, according to Josephus, Herod decreed that in order that the nation properly mourn his death, one member of each family should be killed in his honor, and thus the mourning in all Israel for him would be sincere. His last and final act as King was to rise from his death bed and sentence to death a group of Jewish zealots who had removed an Eagle he place over the entrance of the temple. They had thought the image a desecration. Having killed them, he himself died (in bed) the next day.
Herod was a cruel tyrant and a ruthless and paranoid killer. Calling him “the Great” can only be a reference to his skill in architecture and building and to his headship of the equally cruel Herodian dynasty.
Of the young killer two weeks ago we know little, other than that he was a troubled young man, likely mentally ill. And while we cannot compare him to Herod, the deaths he wrought cannot but make this year’s observance of Holy Innocents more profound and poignant.
I was asked in a recent television interview if the killings did not somehow diminish this year’s celebration of Christmas. To the contrary, I thought. While we moderns like to be sentimental about Christmas, the first Christmas, the biblical one, was anything but pleasant and sentimental: a 70 mile walk for a pregnant woman in the ninth month of her pregnancy due to a census conducted by an oppressive government; no room in the inn; Jesus born in a filthy and stinking stable, a feeding tough for a crib; and then the tragic murder of the innocents that followed; and then a flight by night to Egypt. Nothing cozy here, it was a crisis at Christmas, no delicacies to savor, only disasters to be endured.
Yet here Christ was born and found, in the midst of crisis and disaster. More than ever, the Christmas message is relevant. For despite our cruelty and despite the crises of this world, Christ is still to be found. He was born in one of the most crisis-torn regions of the world. He bids us to find him in just these sorts of places and times, as if to say, there is still hope: The mercies of the Lord are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; it is renewed each morning (Lam 3:22-23).
That he was willing to be born in such circumstances is clear, and from this we see his mercy.
But from our perspective he should not have to have been born like this. And thus our call to repentance remains. This crisis at Christmas was our human doing, our insensitivity. As Scripture says, He came unto his own, and his own received him not (Jn 1:11). That’s us the scriptures are talking about, No room in the inn.
And while Herod may be said to have acted alone, we cannot evade all responsibility, for to some extent we all participate in making and maintaining a cruel world where such ignominies routinely happen.
Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. And while not all of us are equally guilty of contributing to the suffering of children, none of us are wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.
Consider that most children born today are no longer born into the stable and lasting family units they deserve with a father and mother committed to one another till death do them part.
The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. And while most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so because of what it does primarily to children.
The fact is many children are conceived of fornication. Tragically most of these children who are thus conceived are outright murdered by abortion. 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. And for all the vaunted declarations of how contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed with the availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility, it is lust, promiscuity, fornication and adultery. And contraception fuels these problems by further enabling them. The promises associated with contraception are lies, it does the opposite of what it promises.
Thus fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with death, in huge numbers. And the children, conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are, nevertheless subjected to the injustice of usually being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other irregularities.
Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. And make no mistake, these shredded families cause great hardships and pain for children that include: children be shuttled back and forth between different household each week, having to meet “daddy’s new girlfriend” or mommy’s new “live-in boy-friend” and all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, since legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural relationships.
All of this misbehavior, individual and cultural, harms children. Not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many other social ills, starting with poverty.
The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
71% of poor families are not married.
Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
2 times more 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,
3 times more 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. [*]
Add to the burdens children must experience, the new trend of same sex adoption. Never mind that it is best for the psychological development of a child to have a father and mother, a male and female influence. No, what is best and just children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. Same sex couples must now be given equal consideration under law (in many states) to heterosexual couples. It’s the adults and their rights that seem to matter most here, what is best for children is quite secondary.
Our culture has also sinned against children by sexualizing them, by robbing them of their innocence at an earlier and earlier age, by targeting them directly in marketing campaigns, and exposing them to all sorts of political and social indoctrination and experimentation in the schools that they should be spared. We also fail to properly correct and admonish children in many ways.
Again, not all of us do all these things personally and to the same degree. We should further note that abortion is complex and some women have recourse to it out of despair, others are pressured and so forth. But the point emphasized in this reflection is that all of us do contribute to the sort of culture that is increasingly poisonous and unjust to children if not downright deadly.
If nothing else, too many of (starting with clergy) are far too silent about the sins of injustice committed against children. Many remain quite silent while the bad behaviors adults pile up in our culture. Our silence is largely the product of fearing to offend other adults. Meanwhile children suffer, and the injustices pile higher, beginning with the body count of aborted babies and watered by the tears of surviving children who have had much to suffer.
Something to think about on the feast of the Holy Innocents.
I put the following video together to honor these young martyrs. The musical setting is by Michael Haydn of the hymn for the Feast of the Holy Innocents: Salvete Flores Martyrum – It is from his Vesperae In F for Equal Voices, Soli and Orchestra.The singers are the The Group singing is Collegium Instrumentale Brugense. This music is available at iTunes. The Latin text of this ancient hymn is quite beautiful. I produce here the Latin text followed by a fairly literal translation. I would like to call your attention to the second verse and a very charming detail. That verse described these young, two year old martyrs and holding palm branches (the symbol of martyrdom) but as they hold them they play with them, in the way a young child will often fiddle with palm branches in Church. 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 firstfruits
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. Amen. – unto to eternal ages. Amen.