Tuesday, 28 December 2021

"Then Herod ... killed all of the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under." (Matt. 2.16)

In honour of today's feast, that of the Holy Innocents, we post this reflection on the day given by Bishop Challoner. The above painting is by Gustave Dore.

Consider first, that the Son of God, who was born into this world to be the Saviour of the world, was no sooner born, but he began to be persecuted by the children of this world. The wicked king Herod, to secure to himself and his family the temporal kingdom of Judea, seeks the life of this new-born king - of whose birth he had been informed by the sages of the East - and in order to compass his impious design, employs both craft, and (when this was eluded) open violence, by the barbarous massacre of the innocents. But all to no other purpose than to show how vain are the designs and efforts of men against the decrees of God; according to that of the wise man, Prov. xxi. 30, 'There is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord.' Our new-born Saviour, by divine admonition, was carried away to Egypt, out of the reach of the tyrant, and all his barbarity only served to render the birth of the Messias more illustrious, by spreading the fame of it through all the world, and to crown at the same time so many innocent martyrs; whilst, for his own part, it brought a perpetual odium upon his infamous memory, which no length of tie can ever efface, and drew down most terrible judgments (within the compass of a year) upon his head; and as to his numerous family, for which he was so solicitous, they quickly lost the kingdom, and were in a short time totally extirpated. O see, Christians, how sad a thing it is wilfully to fight against our Saviour by known sin, and how dismal the consequences are of all such undertakings. 

Consider 2ndly, that we read, Matt. ii. 16. &c., 'Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry, and sending, killed all the male children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under.' These, my soul, are the Holy Innocents, whose feast we celebrate this day as happy martyrs, bearing testimony, not by their words but by their blood, to the birth of the Son of God. These are the first victims, immolated as so many lambs, to illustrate the coming of our Lamb of God, born into this world to take away the sins of the world. These are the first flowers of the martyrs, cropt in the very bud by the impious persecutor of Christ; these the first-fruits produced by the coming of our Lord, and presented by him to his Father, to be followed afterwards by that abundant harvest out of all nations of innumerable glorious champions of Christ, who should maintain his cause by the testimony of their blood. To these the church applies in the lesson of this day that of Apoc. xiv. 4, 5, 'These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb: and in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God.' O let us honour these first martyrs of the Son of God.

Consider 3rdly, that purity, innocence, and temporal sufferings are by divine appointment the way to eternal happiness. By this road the Holy Innocents arrived thither. O how happy are all they that are walking in this road! See then, Christians, how greatly you are deceived in flying so much from sufferings, since these are to bring you to your God. There was lamentations and great mourning in Bethlehem of the mothers of the Holy Innocents: they were not to be comforted because they had lost their children. In the meantime there was a great joy in heaven for their happy transmigration to a region of endless bliss. Thus, when the world is sorrowful, heaven rejoices; because the sufferings of this short time produce for the sufferers an eternal weight of glory in that blessed kingdom, whereas they that are without sufferings are in danger of never coming thither. 

Conclude to embrace whatsoever share may be appointed for thee in the sufferings of this life, as designed by divine Providence to help thee to heaven. Assure thyself that thy God knows what is best for thee, and that he sends thee what he knows to be the best. Had not the Innocents been brought to God by the means of their sufferings they might have lived to have crucified their Lord, and instead of being eternally happy, might have been eternally miserable.

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