December 28, 2007

Feast of the Holy Innocents (Childermas)

This is the day Matthew 2:16-18 is remembered. The wise men came asking about the baby born "King of the Jews". Warned by an angel, they did not return to tell Herod where they had found Jesus. Herod, in jealous fear, slaughtered many male children in his attempt to get rid of Jesus. Thus the beginning of the choice for mankind: for or against Jesus.

Matthew quotes Jeremiah, "...a voice was heard...sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children." Have you ever really thought of this piece of the Christmas story? Many artists have pondered it, so that it's depicted in many paintings and stories. (The pictures here are by Giovanni, Giotto, and Ruebens.)

Joseph was warned in a dream to flee this slaughter and escape to Egypt. I have a book we read every year by Madeline L'Engle called Dance in the Desert. It imagines the Holy Family traveling in a caravan to Egypt, and one night all creation comes to pay homage to their Creator. The pictures are beautiful of toddler Jesus and various animals. The caravan men have knives ready but Mary always says, "Wait".

All cultures throughout time have the stain of innocent, unwanted children. On this day we can think of children all over the world who suffer innumerable forms of violence which threatens their lives. We can pray for our children and the world.

"Today we celebrate the heavenly birthday of these children whom the world caused to be born unto an eternally blessed life rather than that from their mothers' womb, for they attained the grace of everlasting life before the enjoyment of the present ... For already at the beginning of their lives they pass on. The end of the present life is for them the beginning of glory. These then, whom Herod's cruelty tore as sucklings from their mothers' bosom, are justly hailed as 'infant martyr flowers'; they were the Church's first blossoms, matured by the frost of persecution during the cold winter of unbelief."

— St. Augustine

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