HOLY INNOCENTS IN NEWTOWN, CT
Why does St. Matthew recount such a gruesome event anyway? And why does the Church bother to "celebrate" it? The answer to both questions is pretty much the same, and is certainly more valid in our day than it was in past centuries.
Over the last century and a half, Christmas has become very romanticized, centering on the cuddly little infant lying on the straw with angels bending near the earth to pluck their harps of gold.
The Church knows this well. During the week after Christmas she celebrates the feast of the stoning to death of the first martyr, St. Stephen (on the very day after Christmas, no less!) and after a couple of days gives us the image of babies being killed with swords by Herod’s henchmen. But even these feasts have lost their punch by being repeated year after year, and the mental images they evoke have become more and more genteel, sanitized and idealized over the centuries.
So, as the Newtown massacre has reinvigorated my own image of the slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem, I pray that its horror will serve to remind each of us just how badly in need of redemption we are both as individuals and as a world. Redemption that cannot come from material possessions, worldly power, or any of our other manmade substitutes for God.
On Christmas evening I was able to go and visit with my family for a couple of hours. The feast was doubly blessed this year by the presence of not one but two new infants in the family: my grand-niece Lilly and her cousin, my grand-nephew Dominic, each of them just a few months old. Every time you turned around there was one of the babies being held by someone.
Now, when Jesus chooses to come to me not as an infant but in the guise of some adult who is troubled and troublesome or as someone who puts irksome demands on my time or my patience, well, sometimes I wish that I could just as soon pass that person on to someone else just as I did with Lilly! But that’s clearly not what the Lord is expecting me to do when he drops himself into my lap.
HOLY FAMILY IN EGYPT
So, as we celebrate these post-Christmas feasts let us remember that the reason for the incarnation was to confront evil in the world and to set things right. May the graces of this season move us to do our part in bringing about that promised ”Peace on earth!”
|Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Philipp Otto Runge circa 1805|