The Role of Fear in Abortion – A Meditation on the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, all those young boys in and around Bethlehem, two and under, whom Herod had massacred in order to kill Jesus Christ. We know not their number or their names but the Church lists them as among her martyrs. Some have disputed that they should be called martyrs since they did not submit freely for the sake of Christ but were “merely victims”  of Herod. Nevertheless, the Church has long numbered them in her ranks of martyrs. St. Augustine says of them:

And while [Herod] thus persecutes Christ, he furnished an army (or martyrs) clothed in white robes of the same age as the Lord…. O blessed infants! He only will doubt of your crown in this your passion for Christ, who doubts that the baptism of Christ has a benefit for infants. He who at His birth had Angels to proclaim Him, the heavens to testify, and Magi to worship Him, could surely have prevented that these should not have died for Him, had He not known that they died not in that death, but rather lived in higher bliss. Far be the thought, that Christ who came to set men free, did nothing to reward those who died in His behalf, when hanging on the cross He prayed for those who put Him to death. (Serm. 373, 3, quoted in the Catena Aurea).

Today we honor their sacrifice. And through our honoring of them and worship of God, we seek to atone, for the many sins against human life beginning with abortion and including other forms of murder, and euthanasia, disregard for the safety and dignity of others, mistreatment and indifference to the plight of others, and all other sins against life.

Where does human cruelty come from? Surely it grows in us by stages, for most of us are not born with murderous fear of others. It is bequeathed to us by others and we grow it in our heart. Hatred rooted in fear is handed on down through the generations and the murderous inherit a thinking that there are some who are not worthy of their respect and love. Perhaps they are a threat, perhaps they did something in the past. Perhaps they may do something in the future. Herod was clearly a fearful man, so fearful that he was unmoved by the cries of wailing parents or of suffering infants. His heart had grow cruel through repeated insensitivity inflicted on others, due to raging and irrational fear.

An Old Latin Hymn says, Crudelis Herodes, Deum Regem venire quid times? Non eripit mortalia, Qui regna dat caelestia (Cruel Herod what do you fear in the King and God to come? He seizes not earthly things who  gives heavenly kingdoms). But in the end it IS his fear that drives him.

We know well that Holy Innocents continue to be killed in our world through abortion. And here too it is most often fear that drives the killing. How will the baby be afforded?! What changes will this baby bring that I cannot take? Perhaps the prenatal tests show a possible defect. I cannot deal with this! What if my parents know that I am pregnant? How will this  pregnancy affect my career?! What if my father finds out I got my girl-friend pregnant!? And society says, What of poverty? What of overpopulation? What of deformity? How can we collectively handle all this?

And thus fear drives the current bloodshed. Fear makes us focus on our self,  such that we think too little of what we do to others. Abortion thus becomes an “abstraction,” an “issue” that is debated, a “choice.” It is anything but real. The reality of fetal pain is out of sight and thus less real than the fear. What abortion is doing to our world, that too is less real than the fear. It is the fear that is real, and the fear eclipses everything else.  And fear desensitizes and thus the killing of the innocent becomes plausible, a woman’s “choice,” reproductive “freedom.”

The only solution to fear is trust, faith in God. God alone can set us free from the awful fears that currently drive abortion. We in the Church must be realistic about the fears that many face before the mystery of new life and we must provide reasons for hope and trust. Fear is a cruel task-master and it drives us to do some pretty awful things. One of the most common lines in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.” Hope, trust and Faith are important to us on this feast of the Holy Innocents.

There is also this dangerous thought on this Holy Feast.

I’ll explain what I mean by dangerous in a moment. But for now consider some biblical facts with me.

  1. When God was drawing close to liberating his chosen people from slavery in Egypt there occurred the order to murder of the all the baby boys among the Hebrews. It is almost as though Satan sensed that God was up to something good and Satan raged through Pharaoh in murderous anger driven by fear. Thankfully the actual numbers were reduced since the Egyptian midwives engaged in civil disobedience, refusing to allow the practice to continue.
  2. At the time of Jesus, when God was preparing to liberate his people from sin, there also occurred the murder of innocent baby boys. Here too it was almost as though the Devil sensed that God was up to something good and he once again raged, this time through Herod in murderous anger driven by fear. Thankfully too this infanticide also ended at some point.
  3. Notice the pattern. When God prepared a great liberation the Devil, raging in fear,  went after the babies. In our time, on a scale as never before, the Devil is going after our babies in murderous anger driven by fear. What is he afraid of? Is God planning something big in the near future? Is there a great liberation at hand? Is there a great advancement of evangelization and conversion in the offing? We can only speculate. But patterns are patterns and Scripture has a way of repeating its patterns and echoing down through the centuries.

Why is this a dangerous reflection? Because I want to make it clear that abortion, the killing of the innocents in our age, is NOT and never can be considered something good, or a “positive sign.” Such a speculation might cause some to wrongly conclude that abortion is part of God’s plan or something we should see “positively.” We should not. It must be fought. It is of Satan, it is rooted in fear.

End the Massacre And the Glory follows – I want to conclude by reminding you that the great liberation that followed the past infanticides did not occur until AFTER those murderous rages were stopped. Hence, to follow the pattern established in Scripture and to see a potentially great and liberating act of God we must first see an end to the slaughter. Work and pray to end abortion. May the Holy Innocents pray for us!

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.

32 Replies to “The Role of Fear in Abortion – A Meditation on the Feast of the Holy Innocents”

  1. Msgr. Pope, what a wonderful meditation, you always manage to “hit the nail on the head”with me.
    Beautiful video, great voices, you do it every time. Soon the March for Life will take place in Washington, I shall be there, just as I speak up every day for the intentions “for the conversion of those who perform abortion.”
    For if there were none to do this horrible pain, abortion would become nonexistent.
    Keep it up, you are admired.

  2. I am in AWE of the clarity with which you speak of why we must pray and do something to end abortion. I did not see this pattern before … never in history have babies been killed with so little regard for who they are. Thank you.

  3. Excellent meditation! One question I have always had, though, is about the plague of the Killing of the Firstborn. Surely that fits in here, too. Can you explain it, because it has always been a source of difficulty (not doubt) that God would order the killing of children…looking forward to being enlightened! Thanks as always for wonderful, wonderful thoughts, often the way I start my day.

    1. I am not sure really how it does fit in exactly in that the Lord does the killing, which He is free to do as the Lord of Life.. But it is true that this killing preceded a liberation.

      1. Thank you. Ultimately I am reminded often how much OI cannot understand. I must content myself to be glad of that which I can…

  4. Thank you monsignor. Beautiful music, beautiful (and horrible) paintings.
    How brutal the soldiers must have been.

  5. //Work and pray to end abortion. May the Holy Innocents pray for us!//

    I have drawn the conclusion that abortion will not stop until the widespread use of artificial contraception stops. I am not alone in seeing the inexorable link between contraception and abortion and indeed, that widespread use of contraception is the root cause of abortion.

    Widespread availability and use of contraception has created a culture in which recreational sex on demand is viewed as a right. This “Right”, like choosing the music one want’s to listen to, must only come without responsiblity and without any consequenses. Artificial contraception, in all its forms – including male vasectomy – is the root cause of the culture of recreational sex which has brought about not only the demand for abortion but homosexuality, two generations of fatherless children, and a host of other social ills.

    Consider that the Protestant Churches changed their position on contraception in the 1930’s and that contraception then became available one generation later in the 1950’s. Legalized murder of unborn children occured in the early 1970’s, only one generation after the widespread availability of over the counter contraceptives. Now even most Catholics have fallen into the trap. Since Catholics bear the brunt of the fight against abortion, Catholics – who really ought to know better – need to examine themselves to ascertain to what extent their own behavior has contributed, and what they must do to stop it.

    I realize that my comments are provocative and to a certain extent, counter intuitive, but I am not alone in coming to the logical conclusion that artificial contraception is the root cause of many social ills, most notably abortion. No less than Pope John Paul II spoke of it his catechesis Theology of the Body.

    I would submit the following article for your reader’s consideration. “Contraception: The Bacteria Devouring America’s Soul” at (link to Catholic Exchange) by Judy Brown and request prayers to end both abortion and artificial contraception.


    1. Tim, I agree completely. Separating the life-giving quality from sex is disinviting God into marriage. My husband and I have been examining our own marriage and have come to the conclusion that I must stop taking the contraceptives that were being given to me for “medical” reasons that I developed after the birth of our second child. Yes, they did stop the problems I was having but we trust that there must be other treatments. And miraculously, after being anointed for the sick, I am getting better. We are neophyte Catholics and trying to claw our way out of the culture of death that we grew up in and embracing the culture of life. God and the good people of the Church are showing us the way. Please keep speaking out and God bless you.

  6. I am in full agreement with you Tim H. As a Silent No More participant/witness and a Catholic convert from Judaism, I recall the Torah reading from The book of Yirmiyahu–Jeremiah lets us hear the bitter weeping of Rachel, mourning over her absent children (Jeremiah 31:15). That book also conspicuously presents songs of communal loss as a maternal legacy; because of disaster, the prophet instructs the women thus: “Teach your daughters wailing, and one another lamentation” (Jeremiah 9:19). When the world splits open, when history fails, the feminine voice is made audible. I, too, weep for my child. It has been 40 years, and that is why I am silent no more–my voice will be made audible. Let us pray for an end to abortion & continued prayers for our Catholic (Herod) politicians, as well as the conversion of abortionists. Bless you, Msgr. Charles Pope, for this lovely, spiritual reflection on this Feast day of the Holy Innocents.

    1. Thank you for your brave response and putting a public face to women like us. The difference between us is that when I had my abortion I was a cradle catholic who came from an orthodox pro-life family. I am tormented at times how I could have made such a decision. Even 30 years later.

      I definitely see the correlation between contraception and abortion.

  7. As a black women, I could blog on the social and culture history of black women as it relates to abortion but that would take many many blogs. Ultimately, Msgr Pope is correct. Most of our immoral decisions are rooted in fear, not just the decision to terminate life. Saying all of this I just wanted to bring out how important it is for male headship or leadership in our families. This I believe is at the core of a lot of abortions. (not all). When a society takes away the voice and the decison making of life away from a man it will ultimately end in disaster. i know a lot of you will disagree but Herod didn’t go after the girls but the boys, the future headship of families. Think about it.

  8. To Carol,
    Thank you also for your write-up. Your Torah quotations are so inspiring. Congratulations on your conversion.
    As much as you lament the loss of your child, the Lord has forgiven you. And all that you do to speak out
    audibly is part of repentance. Blessings to you in the New Year.

  9. The sacrifice of the Holy Innocents surley must have been part of God’s plan. For as God told Jeremiah at 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew thee.” St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica says (Q. 124, Art. 2) “…In the case of the Innocents the use of their free will was miraculously accelerated, so that they suffered martyrdom even voluntarily. Since, however Scripture contains no proof of this, it is better to say that these babies in being slain obtained by God’s grace by the glory of martyrdom which others aquire by their own free will. For the shedding of one’s blood for Christ’s sake takes the place of Baptism.” St. Dismas (the Good Thief crucified with Christ- Luke 23:39-43) was also promised paradise with Christ, although un-baptised.

    Scripture says that Herod wanted to have the baby boys “in Bethelem and surrounding areas” under the age of 2 killed. How many male infants in this area were killed is unknown, but it would be based on registration of how many families resided in that area. Herod’s requirement to kill all the boys under the age of 2 is the exact order given by the Pharaoh of Egypt when Moses was born. The King of Egypt told the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was called Shiphrah and the other Pauh, “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women and see them giving birth, if it is a boy kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live” (Exodus 1:15-16)

    St. Quodvultdeus in a sermon says:” Why are you afraid Herod, when you hear of a birth of a King? You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself. The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of a king. See how the deliverer is already working diliverance, the savior already working salvation. — But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it. — How great a gift is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engae in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.” The Child martyrs are rewarded with the first share in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

    Regarding the evil of abortion, it is horrible when a mother’s womb becomes a unborn child’s grave. Fear may cause the dispair which robs the mother of hope, however fear is not a sin in and itself, because it is wriltten: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
    So in some fear can cause dispair, and in others fear may bring forth fortitude.

  10. Not sure this is the right place for this but this discussion brings to mind for me the “spiritual status” of aborted unborn persons. Would they be considered martyrs and therefore worthy of heaven via a baptism of blood? If so, what would this mean for miscarried babies? Would they be afforded the same consolation, notwithstanding the mercy of God and the idea of a reality such as limbo?

    1. Limbo is not a doctrine of the Church though it is a common opinion of theologians especially of the past. There are good theological grounds for holding it but, for the record the Church has never formally adopted it as a doctrine. However the bottom line is that we are not absolutely sure of the final stauts of aborted children. However, there are surely strong reasons to hope that they are with God. The Pope had recently asked the Theological commission to study the matter and in 2007 they had this to say:

      Theologians are working on the answer. Recently, the International Theological Commission came out with a document, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised (April 19, 2007), that provides an extensive overview of the matter, and a conclusion:

      Our conclusion is that the many factors that we have considered above give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptised infants who die will be saved and enjoy the Beatific Vision. We emphasise that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us (cf. Jn 16:12). We live by faith and hope in the God of mercy and love who has been revealed to us in Christ, and the Spirit moves us to pray in constant thankfulness and joy (cf. 1 Thess 5:18).” International Theological Commission The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised (April 19, 2007),

      Pope John Paul also says in Evangelium VItae :

      I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion . The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord.

      Hence I think we do well to have strong and vigorous hope that they are with God. Whether there’s is natural happiness or a supernatural one is not for us to know now. But God is surely just and wills that all be saved.

  11. Thank you Msgr. for this article.
    Abortion is evil, as has been pointed out. It is a mystery as to why God allows evil in this world, except for the fact, that he does not want to interfere with man’s free will. But I would like to think that the Holy Innocents, massacred by Herod, and the babies lost to abortion, are all martyrs. They speak wordlessly, but eloquently, of the terrifying consequences of evil, of what happens to man when he destroys his soul, and becomes a slave to Satan. But I believe that God still comes out as the victor. In Herod’s case, he was eternally doomed, but the children lived in glory for they were taken up to heaven and be among the saints and martyrs. The same way, maybe, for babies lost to abortion. And in this case, those women who repented and admitted their sinfulness before God, they, too, are released from Satan’s hold and are restored back to life of grace. They have become a powerful mouthpiece of God, pointing out the severity of this heinous crime, and how the soul suffers because of it. And we are all made aware of this and are stirred to act, to bring about the greater glory of God! Through the testimony of these repentant women, we all become one with Rachel, the symbol of anguish, and we cry out to heaven for forgiveness. We do this because we believe that our God is just and full of mercy; that he is the Lord of all created things, and no other, and that the Light shines even in the darkness, and no one can extinguish it.

  12. One must agree that abortion has increased since governments have created support and protection rulings allowing the use of fedral tax money to fund and encourage sexual irresponsibility and disregard dignity and sanctity of life. It is often an individual choice but one encouraged and supported by a progressive social political agenda.The blame goes beyond to those who vote for and attempt bipartisan cooperation with such agnostic or atheist movements and political / governmental institutions. It wasn’t that long ago nations of people condoned such apathy and led to the rise of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. It’s easier and more expedient to attack the symptoms than the cause of the disease. It will take an organized crusade to turn this around and defeat such an evil mentality that never sleeps.

  13. Also remember the horrors committed in wars in the former Yugoslavia and in other places where womens wombs were opened and their unborn children torn out of them and killed. Lord have mercy. I have often wondered if their is a link between the apparitions of Our Lady in the Rue du Bac in 1830 and the acceptance of contraception in limited circumstances by the Protestants in 1930 which has led on in many parts of the world to mass population control, the terror and enslavement of individuals and the destruction of families. O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

  14. Monsignor:

    I want to thank you for your above response. As the father of two children lost to miscarriage, it affords me some hope and peace.

  15. I beg to differ here. The massacre of the Innocents was not a victory in any sense, but an atrocity — just as abortion is an appalling atrocity (on a much vaster scale). In this sense the analogy is an entirely sound one. It is the martyr witness of the children that is the great victory, precisely because the Church has proclaimed them martyrs (and thus, implicitly, that they somehow willingly gave their lives for Christ). In the same way the Church can turn this victory for satan into a victory for Christ by proclaiming the aborted children as martyrs. I believe this may well herald the “great liberation” and the “great advancement of evangelization and conversion” that Mgr Pope has referred to. Many resist this idea, I know, but there is a great body of theological and scriptural evidence to support it.

    1. Reginaldus, I have already replied at length on your own blog, so I will not go into detail here.Suffice it to say here that I do not feel sorry for the aborted children, precisely because I believe strongly that they are in heaven, just like the Holy Innocents. I do not mourn their loss because they are not lost. The penitential Masses are above all in reparation for the sin of their murder.
      The suggestion that the Church should proclaim them martyrs is not in the least an emotional response but a reasoned argument based on the goodness of God and the solid analogy with the suffering of the Holy Innocents.
      The reason, and the urgency, for this is not about the aborted children themselves but about the immense number of souls in danger of eternal damnation unless they are called to repentance for this terrible sin. it is a pastoral issue, for which the Church bears an immense responsibility.
      I agree about the need for hope, but we must do more than hope. We (and the hierarchy) must also pray, and act (Where, incidentally, are the great Masses and pilgrimages of reparation, led by our bishops and cardinals? I am speaking above all in an English context here, since I do not know well the situation in the United States)

      1. THanks Frank for these insights in your dialiogue with Reginaldus. It seems clear to me that abortion is in a special category for the reasons your state. I also read your dialogue with R at his blog and would agree with the pastorally urgent statments of the ITC et al.

        1. Thank you for this Monsignor! I had intended to thank you before for your blog, but got sidetracked into the discussion with R. I feel I have now said all I can usefully say on that topic. I would only add that I will happily send a copy of the book “Mercy Reigns” (mentioned on R’s blog) to you or to any reader interested in exploring this issue further. Perhaps you already know of it? It is based on a private inspiration but the arguments are entirely drawn from the scripture, liturgy, patristic and magisterial documents of the Church – and thus stand or fall on their own merits. It has been sent to all the bishops of the anglophone world, and many have responded appreciatively to it. I don’t want to appear to be “plugging” it but feel it makes a real contribution. Here is my email address (if it’s ok to supply it in a post — otherwise I’m sure you will remove it): [email protected]

  16. There is another pattern here, too. The mounting evil in Egypt- slaughtering babies, oppresion on top of slavery, etc., preceeded the great event of the Jews, the Exodus. The Exodus, with its meal of unleavened bread and sprinkling of doorways with the blood of the lambs, was a type of the salvation wrought by Christ: his Eucharist, cross and resurrection that freed the world from spiritual slavery to sin and the works of the devil. The world at large still travails under this slavery, however, until the final “exodus”, the liberation of creation through the second coming of Christ. Can such wide-spread evil as we see today, be other than a sign of the readying of the world for its final days? I have wondered if the only hope for conversion will be suffering, perhaps similar to the extreme suffering required for hearts that are as hard as pharoah’s, the loss of the first-born. My hope has been not this, but that the immaculate heart of Mary will in the end truimph, that the world may continue, that a wide-spread conversion of souls will occur, and peace return to the world.

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