“Herod the Great, the Governor of Galilee, was an Idumean Jew whom History describes as an extremely cruel man: he was a man who killed several of his wives and his own sons when he suspected they were plotting against him. Challenges to his power were met with a swift and final response, and he even tried to ensure that his cruel campaigns survived him, when he arranged that on the day he went on to his eternal reward, hundreds of men in the area would be killed so that there would be mourning at his funeral. Though this arrangement was never carried out, it speaks well of Herod’s nature.
And during this tyrant’s reign, the Magi — whose adoration of Baby Jesus is remembered on the Epiphany — saw the Star of Bethlehem and went to Jerusalem, asking where the new King of Jews may be found. Herod heard of their asking around about the newborn King and, calling the high priests to find out about this Child, was informed that it was prophesied that the Child would be born in Judea.
Threatened by this prophecy, he sent for the Magi to find the Child and report back so he could go and “worship,” too. The Magi found Jesus but, knowing Herod’s heart after having it revealed to them in a dream, didn’t go back to tell Herod of His whereabouts. Meanwhile, the Holy Family, warned through St. Joseph who was visited by an angel in a dream, makes their flight into Egypt.
Herod became enraged at the Wise Men’s “betrayal,” and killed all the baby boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger.”1 Those young souls, unsuspecting and so innocent as to be remembered as the Holy Innocents, became the first martyrs for the Faith.
On Friday, December 14th, “a 9-year-old girl in the fourth grade named Emma, when she got home from school that day, marched straight into her room with a friend and emerged with a handwritten account of everything she had witnessed” that day. “Her mother did not get past the title before breaking down. It read, “The Shooting.””2
Emma’s account wasn’t the first of the day and by the end of the day, everyone in the world knew what had taken place in Newtown, Connecticut. Death came to the innocents of Newtown, their deaths all the more tragic for the lack of reason behind it, their killer without cause but with terrifying effect.
Even so far away from Newtown, we too are terrified. We are confounded by a gunman we will never understand and disturbed by his choice of victims. We fear for our children, and perhaps we should. When I delivered coats and gloves to the middle school last week, it took forever to get into the building; every precaution was in place, and I left feeling sorry for everyone inside but strangely comforted by how hard it was to get in the front door.
We will see some things change because of the Newtown shootings; probably not enough change, but maybe as much change as we can handle at one time. Our kids may or may not end up being safer because of our changes, but I hope they do, of course. I hope that along with any legislative measures we will see, that our society will take measures as well; I hope we can become a people better capable of recognizing where our rights end and our privileges begin; that we will become a people who look out for the troubled, not just to keep ourselves safe, but to keep them safe as well.
There will come a day when the only sword drawn is the sword of righteousness, the only strength known the strength of love, of that I am certain. I am also certain that today is not that day, no matter how much we wish it was. But until that day comes, my prayer is that the victims of violence in Newtown and throughout the world may find a Rock and Shield in Christ Jesus, and that with them, the Holy Innocents, and all the Saints, we may attain to that eternal life that no one can snatch away from us.
1The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Fisheaters.
2Sam Dolnick and Michael Wilson, Seeking Comfort in Song Amid the Whiz of Bullets, The New York Times, December 18, 2012.