The Holy Innocents Martyrs
On Monday 28 December 2020, we celebrated the feast of the Holy Innocents. Perceiving that he was cheated by the wise men, Herod’s excessive anger led to the brutal execution of all male children aged two and under who were in Bethlehem and its outskirts. Such a horrible killed fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy which we find in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel that said: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more (Matt 2:18).
About these heroic children St Augustine writes: Blessed are you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah! You suffered the inhumanity of King Herod in the murder of your babes and thereby have become worthy to offer to the Lord a pure host of infants. In full right do 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. The precious death of any martyr deserves high praise because of his heroic confession; the death of these children is precious in the sight of God because of the beatitude they gained so quickly. 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.
This horrific story teaches us all a very important lesson: to safeguard human life from its beginning to its natural end! In his letter to all the Bishops of 28 December 2016, at the occasion of the Holy Innocents Martyrs, Pope Francis wrote: Christian joy does not arise on the fringes of reality, by ignoring it or acting as if it did not exist. Christian joy is born from a call – the same call that Saint Joseph received – to embrace and protect human life, especially that of the holy innocents of our own day. Christmas is a time that challenges us to protect life, to help it be born and grow. It is a time that challenges us as bishops to find new courage. The courage that generates processes capable of acknowledging the reality that many of our children are experiencing today, and working to ensure them the bare minimum needed so that their dignity as God’s children will not only be respected but, above all, defended.
In front of the diabolical act of abortion, wherein a human life is simply killed cold-bloodedly, we, as Christians, need to be bold enough to defend life. The sanctity of life is a very clear message the Bible is giving to us to see, believe and proclaim in every way! For instance, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jer. 1:5); For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy (Luke. 1:44); There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood (Prov. 6:16-17); and the list goes on and on. Human life in the womb is sacred. Destroying it is a clear abomination against God and humanity too. Thus, human life has to be protected at all costs and in each of its stages.
In his magisterial teaching Pope Francis has some interesting instruction regarding the sanctity of life. For instance, in his tweet of Mary 15, 2013, he said: It is God who gives life. Let us respect and love human life, especially vulnerable life in a mother’s womb. Whereas in his message to Catholics participating in the annual Day for Life in Britain and Ireland on July 28, 2013, he said: All life has inestimable value even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.
To the Catholics taking part in March for Life in France on January 19, 2014, Pope Bergoglio reminded them: Let’s say ‘Yes’ to life and ‘No’ to death. In his speech to Catholic healthcare professionals and gynecologists, on September 20, 2013 he emphasized: Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection. And every elderly person…even if he is ill or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests!”
During the Mass homily for Evangelium Vitae Day, on June 6, 2013, he said: All too often, as we know from experience, people do not choose life, they do not accept the ‘Gospel of Life’ but let themselves be led by ideologies and ways of thinking that block life, that do not respect life, because they are dictated by selfishness, self-interest, profit, power and pleasure, and not by love, by concern for the good of others. …As a result, the living God is replaced by fleeting human idols which offer the intoxication of a flash of freedom, but in the end bring new forms of slavery and death (no. 5).
In his speech to diplomats of January 13, 2014, Pope Francis kept harping on the throwaway culture that is clearly visible in the killing of human life, including that of the unborn. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as ‘unnecessary.’ For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis asserted in numbers 213 and 214: Among the vulnerable for whom the church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. …Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the church cannot be expected to change her position on this question… It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life…
When addressing a delegation from the Dignitatis Humanae Institute on December 7, 2013, the Holy Father said: The victims of this [throwaway] culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings — the unborn, the poorest, the sick and elderly, the seriously handicapped, etc. — who are in danger of being ‘thrown away,’ expelled from a system that must be efficient at all costs. …It is necessary to raise awareness and form the lay faithful, in whatever state, especially those engaged in the field of politics, so that they may think in accord with the Gospel and the social doctrine of the church and act consistently by dialoguing and collaborating with those who, in sincerity and intellectual honesty, share — if not the faith — at least a similar vision of mankind and society and its ethical consequences.
In his message to the 10th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches, on October 4, 2013, Pope Francis said: We are called to reach out to those who find themselves in the existential peripheries of our societies and to show particular solidarity with the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters: the poor, the disabled, the unborn and the sick, migrants and refugees, the elderly and the young who lack employment.
Even as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis was a staunch defender of the sanctity of human life. In an interview that can be found Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio: His Life in His Own Words, we encounter the following comments he himself made on abortion: The fight against abortion is “part of the battle in favor of life from the moment of conception until a dignified, natural end. This includes the care of the mother during pregnancy, the existence of laws to protect the mother postpartum, and the need to ensure that children receive enough food, as well as providing healthcare throughout the whole length of life… Within the same book Cardinal Bergoglio comments on the sanctity of life by appealing to science that a woman is carrying a human person in her womb. The very powerful tone he employs is shockingly impressive yet very effectual: A pregnant woman isn’t carrying a toothbrush in her belly, or a tumor…We are in the presence of a human being.
In a very intriguing book which is, essentially, a conversating between Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Argentine rabbi Abraham Skorka, called On Heaven and Earth, we find the following statement: The right to life is the first human right. Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend him or herself.
Finally, one cannot bypass a strong comment made by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio during a homily delivered on August 31, 2005, at the feast of St Raymond Nonnatus, patron saint of expectant mothers, newborns: All of us must care for life, cherish life, with tenderness, warmth…to give life is to open (our) heart, and to care for life is to (give oneself) in tenderness and warmth for others, to have concern in my heart for others. Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing..So, go forth and don’t be discouraged. Care for life. It’s worth it.
In message on January 25, 1991, Our Lady told us at Medjugorje: Dear children! Today, like never before, I invite you to prayer. Let your prayer be a prayer for peace. Satan is strong and desires to destroy not only human life, but also nature and the planet on which you live. Therefore, dear children, pray that through prayer you can protect yourselves with God’s blessing of peace. God has sent me among you so that I may help you. If you so wish, grasp for the rosary. Even the rosary alone can work miracles in the world and in your lives. I bless you and I remain with you for as long as it is God’s will. Thank you for not betraying my presence here and I thank you because your response is serving the good and the peace.
Let us keep helping our Mother Mary, Pope Francis and the Church entire to defend human life by praying, daily, the Pro-life Rosary which can be found on https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/rosaries/pro-life-rosaries
Holy Innocents Martyrs, infant martyr flowers, pray for us!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap