This Monday, we celebrate the feast of the so-called Holy Innocents—those baby boys under the age of two who were slaughtered by order of King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus. It is a very interesting feast and one which provides more questions than answers. There were about thirty baby boys of that age in the town of Bethlehem and its vicinity. Since Herod did not know which of them was the one whom the Magi believed was the new king of Israel, but he very much wanted to get rid of anyone who might be a threat to his own kingship, he had them all killed to get rid of his baby rival. An absurd and ruthless action on his part, because of which his name will be synonymous with cruelty and selfishness forever.
What is interesting, though, is the fact that these baby boys who were killed are treated as martyrs for Christ, and on the third day after Christmas each year, we celebrate them. One of the fathers of the Church says of them that they proclaimed that Jesus is the Savior “not by speaking, but by dying.”
The Church has never had any hesitation to celebrate their brief lives and brutal deaths just as she celebrates the lives and death of the martyrs who knew perfectly well what they believed in, confessed, and why they were dying. This fact causes me to wonder about the suffering and death of all the other innocent people in human history who also suffered and died, even without knowing why. Are they martyrs too? Do their sufferings and death merit them a place in heaven? What about all the babies killed by the abortionists of the world? What about the millions of Jews killed by the Nazis simply because they were Jewish? What about the millions of people killed by Communism because they were considered “enemies of the revolution”? We are told that Stalin killed about twenty million of them. In the American cemetery above Omaha Beach in Normandy, nine thousand men lie buried, having lost their lives in the beginning of the reconquest of France from Naziism in 1944/1945. Entombed in the sunken battleship Arizona, there are still several thousand American sailors who died when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Are they martyrs in the eyes of God? Certainly, they were victims of evil, and many were totally undeserving of being killed. We must leave them to the loving mercy of our Father in Heaven.
Children are starving or dying of slow malnutrition in many parts of the world today. Others are abused by drug-ridden parents or killed by drunken drivers. All these human lives were created by God and are loved by him. And they are snuffed out because of evil and sin. Are they martyrs? We must leave that to the wisdom and goodness of our Creator. And we must hope that the human race will improve in its behavior. We are very concerned about global warming. What about human respect and love? Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.