Prayer For The Holy Innocents
Published: January 1, 2009
In the sparkle of the Christmas and New Year season, it is easy to overlook a day that reminds us of something many might prefer to forget.
Even during the joyous time when the Christ Child was born, darkness descended upon the world as Herod unleashed a blood bath on little boys under the age of 2.
They became known as the Holy Innocents, the church’s first martyrs, who are remembered Dec. 28.
Mary and Joseph’s infant son was spared a gruesome death because an angel warned Joseph in a dream. It could not have been easy for the Blessed Mother to flee to Egypt with a newborn baby in her arms, but since Joseph took the angel’s message seriously, the baby was safe.
The thought of other mothers trying to protect their babies and standing by helplessly as the soldiers massacred them is more than the heart can bear.
And here is another unbearable thought: The massacre still is going on today.
We pride ourselves in the industrialized nations on having lowered the infant mortality rate, but at the same time, we have legalized the death of helpless ones.
Abortion, of course, is one obvious culprit, having claimed over 40 million lives since it became legal in the United States. But there are also fertility methods that seem to be, on the face of it, wonderful aids for couples who cannot conceive a child.
For example, there is in-vitro fertilization, a technique that many think is a godsend, but which is deemed immoral by the Catholic Church.
The procedure gets high praise in the secular press, although it is in reality a moral nightmare. For one, the church holds that new life should be conceived through sexual intercourse between husband and wife.
Further, IVF often produces “extra” embryos, more than a woman can bring to term. And many of these “extras” are either destroyed on the spot or stored in freezers for years. Some are used in experiments and are destroyed in the process.
True, some of the frozen embryos, often called “snowflakes,” may be donated to other infertile couples, and may be brought to term. And some people would claim this is making the best of a bad situation.
But the whole notion of human beings, no matter how small, being destroyed, stored away and experimented upon is extremely disturbing and terribly wrong.
Of course, if embryos were simply bits of tissue, IVF would pose no moral problem. But they are in fact undeniably human with unique genetic structures. And they have immortal souls made in God’s image.
I have friends who prayed for a big family after they married about seven years ago. They had one child, but then a tragic series of miscarriages. Faithful to their Catholic beliefs, they did not succumb to the temptation of using fertility methods forbidden by the church.
My friends were fortunate because God eventually sent them a lovely baby girl, but, sadly, not every couple is so blessed.
And those unable to conceive under any circumstances carry a huge cross.
Some of these couples turn sorrow into joy by adopting a child. Others become involved in the lives of nieces, nephews and godchildren.
There is no easy answer to why God sends biological babies to some couples and withholds them from others. We know the timing is his, not ours.
We also know from Scripture how much Jesus loves the little children. He was the one who said: “It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones (Luke 17:2).”
There is a 15th-century Christmas carol “Lully, Lullay,” which I used to sing when I was in a church choir, but never without tears stinging my eyes.
In this poignant lullaby about Herod’s slaughter of the baby boys, a mother says goodbye to her tiny child, “this poor youngling for whom we sing.”
The song ends with the mother’s cry of anguish:
“Then woe is me, poor child, for thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye lully, lullay.”
During this joyous season, I hope we can take a moment to remember the babies whose lives were so cruelly taken by Herod’s soldiers.
And I hope we recognize that the nightmare is far from over.
There are hundreds of thousands quietly being sacrificed to a monstrous technology, relegated to the status of leftovers, throwaways and laboratory specimens.
We know that in the eyes of God, these innocents are so much more. They are his beloved creations, his cherished children.
And although no one will ever sing these innocents a lullaby on earth, I pray they will one day hear the angels’ voices in heaven.
The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Readers may e-mail them at email@example.com.