"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

One hopes that preachers will remind the many Catholics who attend daily Mass, as I once could and did, that today's feast is especially timely.

We live in a world where many innocent children are killed every day. Thousands are killed each day in the womb at their mothers' behest: some because their birth would make their mothers' lives very difficult; others because their birth would make their mothers' lives less commodious; a few because their birth would end their mothers' lives. Dozens if not scores are killed each day in warfare, either as "collateral damage" or as targets of deliberate massacre. A few here and there are killed by psychotic parents. The toll is depressing. We need not despair, of course: the Holy Innocents are their patrons in heaven.

Still, 'tis strange how little those patrons are invoked. Perhaps they are by a few Catholic or Orthodox mothers who regret having aborted children of theirs, or by a few unheralded priests or religious. I don't know of many people who would even think to do it. Yet the Holy Innocents should also be patrons of all who die on Christ's account without knowing it.

Sometimes such people are called martyers. The term 'martyr', meaning "witness," is sometimes used that broadly, to include not only those who either choose to die or know they are dying on Christ's account, but also all those whose deaths witness to Christ, as that of the Holy Innocents surely did. I myself prefer the narrower definition, according to which St. Stephen would be the first recorded martyr; otherwise we end up inviting, like vapid universalists, inclusion of too many doubtful cases. But there can be no doubt that the Holy Innocents are where the martyrs strictly speaking are. Let us ask them to help us end the slaughter of children, of which abortion is the most common example.
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