28 Dec 2017

December 28th - Feast of the Holy Innocents

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Innocents 2017
Fr Martin Browne OSB
Glenstal Abbey

Several times during the week after Christmas, we put away our bright white and golden vestments, and replace them with the blood-red colour of martyrs. As a medieval poet put it: ‘In the midst of life, behold Death has girt us round.’ The martyrdoms of St Stephen and St Thomas Beckett are both shocking in their way, but the massacre of the Holy Innocents whom we commemorate today is even more grotesque and monstrous: they were baby boys whose only ‘crime’ was to be born around the same time and in the same locality as the child Jesus.
When our community gathered here for Vespers on Christmas Eve, the very first antiphon we sang, ushering in the Christmas season, said: ‘The King of peace is magnified whose face all the world has desired’. The King of Peace…. Yet today, we are commemorating the murderous deeds of a ruler who was anything but peaceful. Fearful and jealous of the infant King of Peace, Herod ordered the extermination of all the male infants in Bethlehem. ‘In the midst of life, behold Death has girt us round.’

Today could be a good day….
- to pray for children and other non-combatants caught up in situations of war and conflict
- to pray for those whose lives are made to take second place to other people’s political agendas, sometimes even from the moment of conception
- to pray for those whose health, happiness, safety or welfare are made to take second place to the pride or whims of political rulers

‘In the midst of life, behold Death has girt us round.’ This is the stark reminder given to us by having such a gruesome commemoration in the middle of the Christmas Octave. Later in the poem, the poet asks a question: ‘Whom for help then shall we pray, Where shall grace be found?’ St John answers that question for us in today’s First Reading: ‘We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.’

Today’s feast reminds us of why we need a Saviour. It invites us not just to come and adore him, but to trust and believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour of the world. Our medieval poet concludes: ‘In the midst of hell would Sin drive us to despair; Whither shall we flee away? Where is refuge, where? With Thee, Lord Christ, alone! For Thou hast shed Thy precious blood, all our sins Thou makest good. Holy God! Holy and Strong! Holy and Immortal One, have mercy on us!

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