Friday, December 28, 2007

Fourth Day of Christmas: Holy Innocents

December 28th marks the commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the young boys two years old and under, who were ordered by Herod to be slaughtered when he realized that the Magi had avoided him and refused to tell him who this "new king" was. Since abortion has become legal around the world, the Catholic Church has also used the day of the Holy Innocents to remember all the children who have perished as the result of abortion. When I visit the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside for spiritual retreats, I enjoy sitting and praying in the beautiful and peaceful cemetery behind the church. In one corner, for the past century babies and young children have been buried, and nearby hangs a large plaque that commemorates the millions of children's lives lost via abortion. So Holy Innocents' Day causes us to remember both the loss of life two thousand years ago, with women wailing and mourning for their babies, and also the millions who have died and continue to die by abortion, with the accompanying deep hurt and grief often experienced by modern women as well.

The Collect from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer reads:

O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths; Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle, which I am not going to type out, can be found in the fourteenth chapter of The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John, starting in the first verse (and concluding after the fifth).

The Gospel reading is written in the second chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, starting at the thirteenth verse:

The angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all of the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy [Jeremiah] the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Thus this day is far from a celebration in Christmastide but a time to remember the death and "lamentation" that resulted from those who were bent on destroying the child who was the Messiah, "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world" as well as the death that results from the sins and wickedness of all humanity, whether that be by war, abortion, or any other loss of innocent life.

The complete inhumanity of mankind has become very real to me in the past two weeks as I have read They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky: The Story of Three "Lost Boys" of Sudan. As one of the "Lost Boys" (two brothers and a cousin) will be coming to our town for a discussion of the book in early February, I read the book during our Christmas break. What a heartbreaking read! Thousands upon thousands of young boys were forced to trek, starving, across miles and miles of deserts, separated from their families, most of their parents dead. Some of these boys were as young as five years old. Can you imagine thousands of young boys being robbed and/or abused by soldiers or other tribes, being forced to do manual labor fifteen hours a day when they finally reached the "safety" of a refugee camp, and being trained to carry and use a gun at age eight in order to be forced into military service at age twelve. Thousands of these young boys died of starvation, heat exhaustion, illness, injury, lack of water, air and mine bombings, as well as murder by government soldiers and competing tribes. Some boys survived on "grass soup" for months with no other food available. They often had to gather firewood in areas frequented by lions and other predators or near other tribes who would rob and then kill them on sight. Others were lucky to gather grain one seed at a time from leaking bags, only to have a soldier kick the gathered grain out of their hands and beat or whip them for "stealing" and "being impudent." This book is obviously not one I would pick up on my own as I don't do well with this kind of book -- haunting nightmares, visions of my own children under these conditions, etc. But I look forward to meeting one of the authors and hearing what he has made of himself here in America (in San Diego, specifically) and how he has pursued the education and job opportunities available here. Their stories reveal the plight of so many innocent children throughout the world, both now and in times past. And I remember children like these as well, victims of war and famine, as we commemorate this day of Holy Innocents.

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