Today, December 28, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, all those young boys in and around Bethlehem, two and under, whom Herod had massacred. We do not know their number or their names, but the Church lists them as among her martyrs. Some have disputed that they should not 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. St. Augustine says of them:
And while [Herod] thus persecutes Christ, he furnished an army (or martyrs) clothed in white robes of the same age as the Lord…. O blessed infants! He only will doubt of your crown in this your passion for Christ, who doubts that the baptism of Christ has a benefit for infants. He who at His birth had Angels to proclaim Him, the heavens to testify, and Magi to worship Him, could surely have prevented that these should not have died for Him, had He not known that they died not in that death, but rather lived in higher bliss. Far be the thought, that Christ who came to set men free, did nothing to reward those who died in His behalf, when hanging on the cross He prayed for those who put Him to death. (Serm. 373, 3, quoted in the Catena Aurea).
Our times is not much different during the time of Jesus’ birth. As we spent the past few days in Christmas revelries, many innocent people continue to be killed due to so many conflicts and wars that persists even in this information age. Not just wars, innocent people continue to die of hunger, common illnesses, extra-judicial killings and massive poverty that afflict more than a half billion people on the planet. We also know well that many innocent babies are killed through abortion.
While we are overjoyed as Christians at the coming of Christ, many people do not share our sense of elation. On Christmas Day, eleven Christian hostages were killed by Islamic State terrorists in Nigeria. The Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) claim they killed the captives to avenge for the killing of their leaders Abu bakr al-Baghdadi and Abul-Hasan Al-Muhajir in Iraq and Syria.
The feast of the Holy Innocents in the middle of the Christmas season reminds us that the real Christmas is still far from reality in our world today. Until there are wars, hunger, poverty, abortion, religious persecution and other maladies which brings about the killings of the innocents, we cannot fully celebrate the realization of Christmas throughout the world. Until there are still Herods who wields power over the poor, vulnerable and powerless, we cannot remain complacent and continue to work towards justice and peace that are the fruits of the Christmas spirit. Until there are parts of ourselves who like Herod want nothing to do with the gospel values that Christ proclaimed, we cannot fully celebrate and experienced the joy of Christmas. The feast of the Holy Innocents is a reminder for us that the work of Christmas is a work that we need to undertake throughout the year.