Publication date: unknown. This is by Fr. Peter West of Priests for Life, Resources for Clergy. It can be found on their website at http://www.priestsforlife.org/frwest/holyinnocentshomily.htm .
St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mat. 2: 1-18) describes the events that took place in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth and King Herod’s order that all male infants, two years old and younger, then living in and around Bethlehem be killed. He ordered this in an attempt to kill the new born King who he saw as a threat to his own power. The Book of Micah in the Bible predicted that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem: “But you, Bethlehem out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.” (Micah 5: 2)
We call these Holy Innocents martyrs because they died in the place of Christ. How many infants there were in Bethlehem and the surrounding area is hard to say. It may have been up to 100. In Jesus’ day human life was cheap. St. Matthew is the only writer to record this event for history.
With the coming of Christ new value is placed on human life. Christ reveals man to himself. In Christ we are made aware that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God; that each and every human being is unique, precious and unrepeatable. Each and every human being has an eternal destiny to be with God in Heaven.
But a decline in the practice of the Christian faith has led to increasing attacks on human life in our society today. In their document “Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics” in 1998 the American Bishops wrote:
“We are now witnessing the gradual restructuring of American culture according to ideals of utility, productivity and cost-effectiveness. It is a culture where moral questions are submerged by a river of goods and services and where the misuse of marketing and public relations subverts public life.”
The losers in this ethical sea change will be those who are elderly, poor, disabled and politically marginalized. None of these pass the utility test; and yet, they at least have a presence. They at least have the possibility of organizing to be heard. Those who are unborn, infirm and terminally ill have no such advantage. They have no “utility,” and worse, they have no voice. As we tinker with the beginning, the end and even the intimate cell structure of life, we tinker with our own identity as a free nation dedicated to the dignity of the human person. When American political life becomes an experiment on people rather than for and by them, it will no longer be worth conducting. We are arguably moving closer to that day. Today, when the inviolable rights of the human person are proclaimed and the value of life publicly affirmed, the most basic human right, “the right to life, is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death” (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life [Evangelium Vitae], 18).
When Christ is valued before self, human life is given its proper respect. When self is valued above Christ human life is endangered.
Below is a passage from “Pope John Paul II from his Letter to Families in 1994”:
Birth and Danger
21. It is significant that the brief account of the infancy of Jesus mentions, practically at the same time, his birth and the danger which he immediately had to confront. Luke records the prophetic words uttered by the aged Simeon when the Child was presented to the Lord in the Temple forty days after his birth. Simeon speaks of “light” and of a “sign of contradiction”. He goes on to predict of Mary: “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (cf. Lk 2:32-35). Matthew, for his part, tells of the plot of Herod against Jesus. Informed by the Magi who came from the East to see the new king who was to be born (cf. Mt 2:2), Herod senses a threat to his power, and after their departure he orders the death of all male children aged two years or under in Bethlehem and the surrounding towns. Jesus escapes from the hands of Herod thanks to a special divine intervention and the fatherly care of Joseph, who takes him with his mother into Egypt, where they remain until Herod’s death. The Holy Family then returns to Nazareth, their home town, and begins what for many years would be a hidden life, marked by the carrying out of daily tasks with fidelity and generosity (cf. Mt 2:1-23; Lk 2:39-52).
The fact that Jesus, from his very birth, had to face threats and dangers has a certain prophetic eloquence. Even as a Child, Jesus is a “sign of contradiction”. Prophetically eloquent also is the tragedy of the innocent children of Bethlehem, slaughtered at Herod’s command. According to the Church’s ancient liturgy, they shared in the birth and saving passion of Christ. Through their own “passion”, they complete “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).
In the infancy Gospel, the proclamation of life, which comes about in a wondrous way in the birth of the Redeemer, is thus put in sharp contrast with the threat to life, a life which embraces the mystery of the Incarnation and of the divine-human reality of Christ in its entirety. The Word was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14): God became man. The Fathers of the Church frequently call attention to this sublime mystery: “God became man, so that we might become gods”. This truth of faith is likewise the truth about the human being. It clearly indicates the gravity of all attempts on the life of a child in the womb of its mother. Precisely in this situation we encounter everything which is diametrically opposed to “fairest love”. If an individual is exclusively concerned with “use”, he can reach the point of killing love by killing the fruit of love. For the culture of use, the “blessed fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42) becomes in a certain sense an “accursed fruit”.
How can we not recall, in this regard, the aberrations that the so-called constitutional State has tolerated in so many countries? The law of God is univocal and categorical with respect to human life. God commands: “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13). No human lawgiver can therefore assert: it is permissible for you to kill, you have the right to kill, or you should kill. Tragically, in the history of our century, this has actually occurred when certain political forces have come to power, even by democratic means, and have passed laws contrary to the right to life of every human being, in the name of eugenic, ethnic or other reasons, as unfounded as they are mistaken. A no less serious phenomenon, also because it meets with widespread acquiescence or consensus in public opinion, is that of laws which fail to respect the right to life from the moment of conception. How can one morally accept laws that permit the killing of a human being not yet born, but already alive in the mother’s womb? The right to life becomes an exclusive prerogative of adults who even manipulate legislatures in order to carry out their own plans and pursue their own interests.
We are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself. The statement that civilization has become, in some areas, a “civilization of death” is being confirmed in disturbing ways. Was it not a prophetic event that the birth of Christ was accompanied by danger to his life? Yes, even the life of the One who is at the same time Son of Man and Son of God was threatened. It was endangered from the very beginning, and only by a miracle did he escape death.
Nevertheless, in the last few decades some consoling signs of a reawakening of conscience have appeared: both among intellectuals and in public opinion itself. There is a new and growing sense of respect for life from the first moment of conception, especially among young people. “Pro- life” movements are beginning to spread. This is a leaven of hope for the future of the family and of all humanity.
(Click here for the entire document)
Pope John Paul II recognized that respect for life is an integral part of the Gospel that we are called to believe and proclaim. Every Christian is called to be unconditionally pro-life, and to proclaim this Gospel by word and deed. Every Christian is also called to proclaim God’s mercy and love, helping to reconcile sinners to God and the Church.
In the slaughter of the Holy Innocents we see Jeremiah’s prophecy fulfilled: “A Voice is heard in Ramah, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Jer. 31:15)
This passage of the Bible was the inspiration for the Project Rachel post-abortion healing program:www.hopeafterabortion.com and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats. If you know someone who has had an abortion or a man or woman was in any way responsible for a decision to have an abortion, please encourage them to seek and accept God’s forgiveness and to make this retreat. Catholics should also be encouraged to return to the Sacrament of Penance.
In his Encyclical Letter “the Gospel of Life” Pope John Paul II writes:
99. …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. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life. (Click here for entire document)
Jesus took on our human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born for us at Bethlehem and died for us in Jerusalem so that our sins would be forgiven and we might have everlasting life. There is no sin to big that God is unable or unwilling to forgive if we repent and turn back to Him.
Ask the Holy Innocents to intercede for us that we may bring about a renewed respect for human life in our society, to build a culture of life, protect the innocents in our day and comfort those who mourn.