Wednesday December 28, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier††† Holy Innocents
Reading (1 John 1:5-2:2)†† Gospel (St. Matthew 2:13-18)
Today we commemorate one of the most tragic events of human history, that is, Herodís attempt to destroy Jesus as a baby, and in so doing calling for the destruction of every little boy in Bethlehem who was two years old or younger, that Herod would be so jealous and so afraid that a king would be raised up who might overthrow his throne that he would try everything he could to destroy that child. The tragedy for Herod is that if he would have simply recognized in faith Who Jesus was, he could have saved his soul. But instead he wanted to try to maintain his worldly power; he wanted to try to maintain everything that he thought the Child was about. Of course, looking back at it now, we know that Jesus was not about the worldly power, even when His apostles wondered if He was going to restore the kingship to Israel, even when the Pharisees and Sadducees and so on were wondering if He was going to kick the Romans out of the area of Israel. We realize that that is not why He came. Herod could not have known that at the time because even the Jewish leaders were not fully understanding what He was going to do when He should arrive.
Yet even with that, we still have to ask ourselves: If everything happens in Godís providence, why did God allow these children to be destroyed? After all, He sent an angel to appear to Joseph, and Joseph took Our Lady and the Child and fled to Egypt. Why didnít God do that for the rest of the families that were there? Why did God allow this to happen? Well, we understand, first of all, that Jesus and Mary did not escape entirely what happened. At that moment, they did; but thirty-three years later they would endure exactly what these little children and their mothers did. Their mothers had to watch as their children were destroyed by the malice of a king who was jealous of his power. So too, thirty-three years later, a mother would have to watch as her Son was destroyed through the malice of people who were jealous of their power. What happened to these women in Bethlehem would happen also to Our Lady. What happened to the little boys in Bethlehem, something similar would also happen to Our Lord; it would just be at a later time.
Even so, the question still remains: Why did God allow these children to be destroyed this way? It is because in a mysterious way greater glory was given to God through the deaths of these children than had they lived. Now we do not always understand exactly how that works, but what we can say is because this was purely innocent blood (and we know, as Saint Paul tells us, that we make up in our bodies for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of His body the Church) and if these little boys all had been enrolled into the covenant (which we would assume that in Bethlehem they would have beenĖthere was not yet the Mystical Body of Christ through baptism, but through circumcision they would be members of the covenant), in this way the innocent blood of these children was preparing the way and offering also a holocaust to God for the forgiveness of sin. Our suffering, as well (maybe not to the point of the shedding of blood), we can unite with that of Christ for the sake of others, for the forgiveness of sin, for the conversion of souls. Only when we get to heaven will we be able to see and understand what God did with the suffering of those mothers and the death of those children and the innocent blood that was spilled upon the earth.
If we go all the way back to Cain and Abel, remember what God told Cain: that the earth cries out because of the innocent blood that was shed. With the Innocents, the earth cries out for vengeanceĖso too, of course, with all the innocent blood of the babies that continues to be shed by the millions in our land today and throughout the world. All of this is going to have to be addressed, and it will be. But all of that innocent blood is going to bring about the purification of this world and it is going to bring about the purification of souls.
Nothing in Godís providence is wasted, absolutely nothing. And what would appear to be the greatest tragedy, God turns around to be something that will give Him glory and bring eternal life to those who have had to endure the suffering. It is part of Godís providence, as we recognize this evil that was foisted upon the people of Bethlehem; yet, at the same time, it is Godís providence that these children and their parents through this horrible situation were able somehow to give greater glory to God, because they prefigured the suffering and death of Christ. They prefigured the innocent blood that one day would be shed, and in some mysterious way, because it was Jesus that Herod was looking for, the innocent blood of these children was united with His and in that way brings about the forgiveness of sin and the conversion of souls.
*† This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.†††††††