Innocent Suffering and the Feast of the Holy Innocents

(by Fr. Robert)

For many people it can be quite a shock to have the “feast” of Holy Innocents right in the beginning of the season of Christmastide, as we celebrate with joy the coming of the Prince of Peace. Of course many of us might not be that shocked any more, just a tad saddened, because over the years we have become used to it. But should we get used to it?

Of course salvation history teaches us again and again that more innocent people can be oppressed, and even slaughtered, by others who are jealous of them, or feel threatened by them, or are angry, or whatever. For instance the very day after Christmas we have the feast of St. Stephen, exemplary Christian and deacon, stoned to death for proclaiming Christ risen.

And going way back, almost to the beginning of salvation history, Genesis presents Abel, upright shepherd, slain by his own brother out of jealousy. Then Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus orders that all the newborn Jewish male babies be destroyed, a direct prefiguring of the slaughter of the Innocents at the Incarnation. Even the supposedly just and holy King David had Bathsheba’s good, loyal husband, who is also David’s loyal officer, killed, in order to have Bathsheba. The Prophets were persecuted, some killed, for proclaiming God’s truth. And so the last and greatest of the prophets, St. John the Baptist, beheaded for a trivial oath of evil King Herod at a drunken palace party.

With the era of Christ all, or nearly all of his own Apostles are martyred, including the giants St. Peter and St. Paul.

And after New Testament times, we think of all the martyrs of virtually every age, and not just Catholic martyrs, and into our own time. And the slaughter continues today, in Africa, in the Middle East, etc.

Of course for us Christians Christ himself is the supreme example of innocent suffering, in his being persecuted, then viciously tortured, and executed in that barbaric way.

How are we to “deal with” this horrendous, ongoing tragedy? In faith we beilieve that Christ was not just an unwilling tragic victim, dragged to his death, but rather that his paschal self offering in love became, in his Resurrection, redemptive of all of humanity, of each one of us. Moreover, there is that mysterious conviction of St. Paul that his (and our) sufferings are “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church” (Col. 1:24). In our experiences of suffering, that can be a powerful consolation, it seems to me.

And what, in other moments, can we “do” about innocent suffering?

-First of all, we can pray mightily for those suffering in our own time, and not just. Theologians say that prayers of intercession can be retroactive, and also stretch forward, in their mysterious efficacy, to future times.

And we can support organizations and movements working mightily for the alleviation of innocent suffering.

-And we can try ourselves to avoid inflicting suffering on others, by word or hostile silence, or action.

-And if we feel we have been unjustly wronged, in the Spirit of Christ we can pray for those we feel have trespassed against us.

-And when we ever do feel we have been wronged, we can realize, given salvation history, that we are not the first. And we are in very good company!

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