Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, all those young boys in and around Bethlehem, two and under, whom Herod had massacred in order to kill Jesus Christ. We do not know their number or their names, but the Church lists them as among her martyrs. Some have disputed that they should be called martyrs since they did not submit freely for the sake of Christ but were “merely victims” of Herod. Nevertheless, the Church has long numbered them in her ranks of martyrs.
Today we honour their sacrifice. And through our honouring of them, and worship of God, we seek to atone for the many sins against human life, beginning with abortion, and including other forms of murder, and euthanasia, disregard for the safety and dignity of others, mistreatment and indifference to the plight of others, and all other sins against life.
Where does human cruelty come from? Surely it grows in us by stages, for most of us are not born with murderous fear of others. It is “bequeathed” to us by others, and we grow it in our heart. Hatred, rooted in fear, is handed on down through the generations, and the murderous inherit a thinking that there are some who are not worthy of their respect and love. Perhaps they are a threat, perhaps their relatives did something in the past. Perhaps they may do something in the future. Herod was clearly a fearful man, so fearful that he was unmoved by the cries of wailing parents, or of suffering infants. His heart had grown cruel through repeated insensitivity inflicted on others, due to raging and irrational fear.
We know well that Holy Innocents continue to be killed in our world through abortion. And here too, it is most often fear that drives the killing. How will the baby be afforded?! What changes will this baby bring that I cannot take? Perhaps the prenatal tests show a possible defect. I cannot deal with this! What if my parents know that I am pregnant? How will this pregnancy affect my career?! What if my father finds out I got my girl-friend pregnant!? And society says, What of poverty? What of overpopulation? What of deformity? How can we collectively handle all this?
And thus fear drives the current bloodshed. Fear makes us focus on our self, such that we think too little of what we do to others. Abortion thus becomes an “abstraction,” an “issue” that is debated, a “choice.” Abortion, to many, is anything but real. The reality of fetal pain is out of sight and thus less real than the fear. What abortion is doing to our world, that too is less real than the fear. It is the fear that is real, and the fear eclipses everything else. And fear desensitizes, and thus the killing of the innocent becomes plausible, a woman’s “choice,” reproductive “freedom.”
The only solution to fear is trust, faith in God. God alone can set us free from the awful fears that currently drive abortion. We in the Church must be realistic about the fears that many face before the mystery of new life and we must provide reasons for hope and trust. Fear is a cruel task-master and it drives us to do some pretty awful things.
One of the most common lines in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.” Hope, trust and Faith are important to us on this feast of the Holy Innocents.