Saint of the Day – 28 December – The Holy Innocents. Patronages – • against ambition•against jealousy• altar servers•babies•children• children’s choir• choir boys• orphans• students.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents
By Father Francis Xavier Weninger SJ (1805-1888)
By the Holy Innocents, who are honoured as Martyrs today by the Catholic Church, we understand those happy infants, who, by the command of King Herod, were put to death, for no other cause, than that the new-born King of the Jews might be deprived of life.
When Christ was born, Herod, well known for his cruelty, reigned at Jerusalem. He was not of the Jewish nation but a foreigner and was, therefore, hated by the Jews. Herod knew this well; hence, he feared that they would dethrone him and he had several illustrious persons executed, whom he suspected of aspiring to the throne.
Meanwhile, it happened, that the three Magi or Kings from the East came to Jerusalem, to find and adore the new-born King, Who had been announced to them by a star. They doubted not that they would learn more of Him in the capital of Judea and they, therefore, asked without hesitation: “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to adore Him.”
This question seemed very strange to the Jews and the news of it spread through the whole City, until it reached the King. His fear can hardly be described, for he already believed his crown and sceptre lost. To escape the danger in which he supposed himself, he called the chief priests and scribes together,and inquired of them, where the Messiah should be born. They answered: “In Bethlehem, according to the Prophets.” Satisfied with this answer, Herod had the three wise men brought to court and speaking very confidentially with them, he asked diligently when and where the star had appeared to them. After this, he advised them to go to Bethlehem and inquire after the new-born Child and when they had found and adored Him, to return and inform Herod, as he wished to go and adore the Child too. These words of the king, who was not less cunning than cruel, were only a deceit, as he had already resolved to kill the new-born Babe.
Meanwhile, the Magi followed the advice of the king and, guided by the star, which again appeared to them when they had left Jerusalem, went to Bethlehem, found and adored the Divine Child and offered gold, frankincense and myrrh, as we read in Holy Writ. Having finished their devotion, they intended, in accordance with king Herod’s wish, to bring him word that they had happily found the Child. An Angel, however, appeared to them in their sleep and admonished them not to return to Jerusalem but to go into their own country by another way which they accordingly did.
When Herod perceived that they had deluded him, it was too late and his rage was boundless. Hearing of what had taken place in the temple, at the Purification of Mary that the venerable Simeon had pronounced a Child which he had taken into his arms, the true Messiah, the Herod’s heart was filled with inexpressible fear and anxiety. The danger in which he was, as he imagined, of losing his crown, left him no peace day or night. He secretly gave orders to search for this Child but all was of no avail, He could not be found.
After long pondering how he might escape the danger, his unbounded ambition led him to an act of cruelty unprecedented in history. He determined to murder all the male children, in and around Bethlehem, who were not over two years of age, as he thought that thus, he could not fail to take the life of the Child so dangerous to him. This fearful design was executed amidst the despairing shrieks of the parents, especially the mothers.
How many children were thus inhumanly slaughtered is not known but the number must have been very large. Yet, the tyrant gained not his end for, the Divine Child was already in security. The Gospel tells us that an Angel appeared during the night to St Joseph, saying to him: “Arise, take the Child and His Mother and fly into Egypt and remain there until I tell thee. For, it will come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy Him.” St Joseph delayed not to obey, and fled, the same night, with the Child and His Mother, into the land indicated to the Angel.
As this had happened before Herod executed his cruel determination, God thus frustrated the plot. Herod soon after, received his just punishment. Several terrible maladies suddenly seized him, as Josephus, the Jewish historian, relates. An internal fever consumed him and all his limbs were covered with abominable ulcers, breeding vermin. His feet were swollen, his neck, shoulders and arms drawn together, and his breast so burdened, that the unfortunate man could hardly breathe, while his whole body exhaled, so offensive an odour, that neither he nor others, could endure it. Hence, in despair, he frequently cried for a knife or a sword that he might end his own life. In this miserable condition, he ceased not his cruelties and only five days before his death, he had his son, Antipater, put to death.
As he had good reason to believe that the entire people would rejoice at his death, he wished at least, to take to the grave, the thought that many should grieve, if not for him, at least for their friends and relatives. Hence, he had the chief men of the nobility imprisoned and gave orders to his sister Salome that, as soon as he had closed his eyes, they were all to be murdered. This order, however, was not executed by Salome, who justly loathed its cruelty. In this lamentable condition, the cruel tyrant ended his life but began one in eternity, whose pains and torments were still more unendurable and from which he cannot hope ever to be released!
While the innocent children massacred by him, rejoice for all eternity in the glories of Heaven, giving humble thanks to God for having thus admitted them into His presence. The Catholic Church has always honoured them as Martyrs; because, although not confessing Christ with their lips, as many thousands of others have done, yet, they confessed Him with their death, by losing their lives for His sake. Amen.
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