DECEMBER 28, 2011: THE HOLY INNOCENTS: 1 JOHN 1:5-2:2 ; MATTHEW 2:13-18

 

GOD IS LIGHT AND IN HIM THERE IS NO DARKNESS AT ALL. Even today when we commemorate the slaying of the innocent babies of Bethlehem the Liturgy speaks to us of the Light that is life and joy. The feast we are keeping here today is one of the more ancient of the Liturgical year, having been celebrated already in the fourth century. As sad as is the memory of the slaughter of these innocent infants, yet Catholic faith has been able to discern, even in this dark crime against humanity, a reason for hope and even joy. It was not primarily sentiment that led the Church to recognize in these victims of tyrannical cruelty, rooted in the paranoia that so often led Herod to murder the people closest to him, including his own sons. Rather, the Spirit of God enlightened Churchmen who were enabled to perceive a higher significance even in such a dismal crime. In a certain way these victims served as substitutes for the Savior of the world whose birth was experienced as a threat by the powers of darkness. They were seen as the first victims witnessing to the babe who came as light from heaven, and whose later death was to overcome the darkness of sin.

 

This slaughter of the innocents is intended by Matthew to be seen as parallel to the decree of Pharao at the time of Mosesí birth. Godís Providence in both instances so arranged matters that the intended victims not only survived but were able eventually serve as deliverers of the people, though the deliverance wrought by Christ far transcends that effected through Moses.

 

And so this episode in the early life of our Lord is to be seen as illustrating the loving and effectual care of His Father who works behind the scenes bringing good even out of the sinful works of men. As Saint John announced concerning the Word made flesh in the Prologue of his Gospel, ďIn him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.Ē

 

If we in our own times are presented with these considerations by todayís liturgy it is because the same conflict between light and darkness confronts us, assuming different forms, yet having essentially the same function and purpose. The secularization of our Western culture is increasingly marginalizing the Christian way of life. Catholic institutions are finding it ever more difficult to maintain the integrity of faith as government and society impose practices seriously at variance with basic teachings of our faith. Loss of respect for the infant life that we honor today in this Eucharistic celebration continues to be abetted by our government and undermines Christian family life.

 

The feast we are keeping here today is one of the more ancient of the Liturgical year, having been celebrated already in the three hundreds as I noted above. Through the centuries it has contributed to a wholesome appreciation for the dignity and value of infant life and indeed of all persons by viewing these innocent victims of unjust government as being true if unconscious witnesses to Godís care as manifested in the birth and infancy of His beloved Son.††

 

Our liturgy today witnesses to Godís Providence that shines beneath the surface of life in society and that is at work in such a manner as to overcome the darkness of unbelief and sin against nature. By celebrating this renewal of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus and honoring the Holy Innocents we ourselves join their company and that of our Blessed Mother and all the saints confident that God is indeed pure light and that even now His light shines in our hearts and in His good time will destroy all the works and empire of darkness.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger


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