The Meaning of Christian Life, Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of the Holy Innocents
December 28, 2013
1 John 1:5-2:2, Ps 124, Mt 2:13-18

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today’s feast of the Holy Innocents brings us to face one of the most challenging parts of the faith. We’re celebrating the mass murder of all the boys in Bethlehem under two. 379 days ago, when Adam Lanza slaughtered 26 innocent young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, there was, for obvious reasons, no celebration, but national mourning for days, in which the words of Jeremiah that were fulfilled in Bethlehem were fulfilled once more throughout our land, “sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.” If we mourn the death of any loved one, how much more we mourn the death of those murdered, and how much more we grieve the execution of innocent children!
  • Yet today, despite those basic human reactions, implanted in our nature and supernature by God,  we celebrate with a Gloria the feast of the Holy Innocents, and we have to ask why. The answer is not just “because they’re in heaven with Jesus,” because that would be celebrating only a good outcome of a deplorable evil. We’re celebrating something more profound. We’re celebrating the fact that these baby boys in a very important way experienced the fullness and purpose of human life, which is to die for Jesus who had come to die for them and for us. Much later Jesus would say that the one who seeks to save his life will lose it, but the one who loses his life for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the Gospel would save it. This is a truth we proclaim every time we celebrate the feast of a martyr. No matter how much that martyr was tortured and killed, we celebrate it as a great victory, because the martyr died out of love for the Lord and because of that death now lives forever with Jesus in heaven. The Feast of the Holy Innocents, however, is the most powerful articulation of this most challenging Christian truth we have in the liturgical cycle.
  • How Christians make the feast of the martyrs and, a fortiori, of the Holy Innocents really indicates a great deal about our faith and how we go about our life. Do we look at their deaths principally as great victories or colossal defeats? If we look at their deaths as manifestations of the triumph of evil, then we often will seek to avoid suffering, avoid martyrdom, avoid conflict. If we look at their deaths as exclamation points on lives lived as lives ought to be lived, then we will often accept our own martyrdom should it come to that and, in the meantime, live a life in regular self-offering to Jesus, to the people for whom he gave his lives, and to his kingdom. The purpose of human life is to die for Jesus, in little things and ordinary moments, and even in big things and extraordinary ones.
  • That’s a truth many don’t want to accept or to live. King Herod certainly didn’t want to live it. When he heard the Wise Men speaking about a newborn king of the Jews, of the long-awaited Messiah, he viewed Jesus only as a threat. And when the Magi didn’t fall for his ploy to return to him to tell him where he was to be found so that he could be selectively assassinated, in a rage Herod killed any infant boy in the area. His lack of willingness to serve even God’s plans in the coming of the Messiah led him to do so much evil. Once upon a time he had been a faithful man, building the temple, obeying scrupulously the Mosaic law. But he began to get corrupted by lust and pleasure and then was totally opposed to sacrifices big and small, not even wanting to put up with people who didn’t agree with him or like him. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that he murdered most of the members of the Sanhedrin. He murdered his wife and mother-in-law. He murdered three of his sons. And on his death he had murdered most of the leading citizens in and around Jerusalem, saying that if people wouldn’t weep because of his death, they would weep at his death.
  • The same principle is at work in us. If we don’t want to sacrifice ourselves out of love for Christ, we say instead, “Give me Barabbas!” in the disguise of the one at whom we look in the mirror or in the form of someone who brings us pleasure or solace and we say “Crucify Christ!” with regard to God and to whoever stands in our way.
  • St. John talks about this principle in the Gospel of Christmas and in his first epistle which is our first reading today. He told us on Christmas morning that Christ is the Light who has come into the world, but that many did not accept the light. They rejected it because, he tells us later, their deeds were evil. He tells us today that if we receive Christ the Light into our lives then it will change all our actions. “If we say,” St. John tells the first Christians, “‘We have communion with him,’ while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth.” There must be a correspondence between what we say we believe and how we live. In the opening prayer of the Mass today we stresses this connection between faith and deeds in the life of the Holy Innocents and in what should characterize the Christian life: “O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day not by speaking but by dying, grant… that the faith in you that we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life.”
  • St. John calls each of us to acknowledge that there are parts of our life that we don’t want to give to the Lord, that we don’t want to “lose” so as to live, that are still in darkness rather than light. That’s why he tells us in the first reading that we humbly have to acknowledge the darkness in our life and bring it to the Lord so that he may irradiate it with his light. “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make him a liar and his word is not in us.” Part of the death involved in sacrificing ourselves to God is the death to a false image of ourselves, one in which we think we’re in the light when we continue to walk in darkness. Today on the feast of the Holy Innocents, how can we not think about all those Catholics, Christians and others who think they’re “good people” while having, supporting, funding and facilitating the continued slaughter of innocent boys and girls in the womb through abortion? They think they’re in the light but in fact they’re in the depth of a dark moral abyss and today is a day on which we pray through the intercession of the Holy Innocents for conversion and mercy.
  • Jesus Christ was born for us in order to show us how to follow him down the path of self-sacrificial love for God and others. He was brought myrrh, an ancient burial ointment, to indicate that even from his earliest days he had a mission to die for us and to call us to follow him on that path of courageous love. The Holy Innocents were the first to follow him down that path of human fulfillment and among the first to enjoy the eternal joy for all those who lose their lives for Christ’s sake and the sake of the Gospel.
  • The opening prayer for Christmas Mass during the day teaches us the meaning of Christ’s incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. We prayed, “O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant… that we may share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Christ shared in our humanity, in our suffering, in our death, so that he may allow us to share in his divinity forever. He came to fill us with his divine and eternal life. In a few minutes at Mass, when we mix the drop of water signifying our humanity within the wine symbolizing Christ’s divinity, we will pray that same prayer. The way we learn how to sacrifice ourselves for Christ so as to become sharers in his divine life is through the Mass, as we receive Christ’s total self-offering for us and respond to his help to give of ourselves totally to him. This is the path by which, one day, we will one day meet the Holy Innocents and join with them in the celebration of all eternity when Rachel will no longer be weeping but where every tear will be wiped away.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 JN 1:5—2:2

This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say, “We have fellowship with him,”
while we continue to walk in darkness,
we lie and do not act in truth.
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light,
then we have fellowship with one another,
and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
If we say, “We are without sin,”
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just
and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.
If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar,
and his word is not in us.My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 124:2-3, 4-5, 7CD-8

R. (7) Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Had not the LORD been with us—
When men rose up against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us.
R. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Then would the waters have overwhelmed us;
The torrent would have swept over us;
over us then would have swept the raging waters.
R. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
Broken was the snare,
and we were freed.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
R. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.

MT 2:13-18

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.