Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace . . .
Collect for the Feast of the Holy Innocents
Today is the feast day of the Holy Innocents. It is that day on the Church calendar when we remember the Holy Family's terror-driven night flight from Bethlehem to Egypt in a desperate attempt to escape the murderous rampage of an out-of-control despot. It is that day when we read from the Gospel of Matthew of Herod's attempt to eliminate his preordained successor by killing all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and younger.
Unfortunately Scripture isn't all rose petals and people playing nicely with each other. We tend to overlook those nasty bits of Scripture, especially Christians who want to focus on the nice, loving God of the New Testament. But in the second chapter of Matthew we hear of a loss of life that shocks us. We hear of innocent children being killed for no other reason than that they were born at the wrong time. We hear of the Holy Family's skin-of-their teeth escape from persecution, themselves becoming homeless refugees seeking shelter in a foreign country.
This is a hard day to celebrate. Questions abound as to why this had to happen? Couldn't God have foreseen this and done something to stop it? Did Jesus and Mary ever suffer from PTSD or the Why Me syndrome that causes one to wonder why they got to live while everyone around them died?
Within this story we need to understand that this wasn't God's doing. God can't stop people from doing evil things. God never promises to wave a magic wand and make everything all better.
What God does, as I've said earlier, is promise to be with us. It then becomes our job to understand that God's desire is for a rule of justice, love, and peace; and it becomes our job to work for those things.
Can we read this terrible story of the Holy Innocents and see it played out today? Are there children suffering at the hands of unjust rulers and laws? Are there people persecuted simply for being who they are? Are there innocent people dying because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Are there systems in society that allow for innocent people to be mistreated? Are people of God fleeing persecution, on the run, and looking for asylum?
If this story of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents does anything for us today, may it open our eyes to any number of problems and injustices still faced by people today; and may it help us to, in the name of God, resist evil tyrants and work to establish systems of justice, love, and peace.