December 28 marks the feast of the Holy Innocents in the Roman Catholic Church. Today, I’m contemplating the holy innocence of the Holy Innocents.
It’s a play on words, yet there’s some real significance there.
Of all of the martyrs, I most admire the Holy Innocents. These children – babies, really – were slaughtered by Herod’s cronies on a whim. He wanted them dead just in case one of them was the King who he perceived would threaten his throne.
I admire them for their innocence, and that’s not a play on words. While the other known martyrs died for their courage, the Holy Innocents died for simply being born two or less years prior. When they died, they died as innocent as they were at their birth.
I would love to be able to claim that quality! Instead, I’m a complicated adult with a history of sins, faults, and shortcomings.
The Holy Innocents had no history of sins, no faults, and no shortcomings. In their childlikeness, they were pure, untouched by sinfulness. I can’t go back, but I can move forward in striving to become more childlike rather than childish in my daily spirituality. There’s quite a difference.
People who are childish are immature and without control over their thoughts, actions, and emotions. They’re the foot – stompers who want their own way even when it’s not good for themselves or others and opposes God’s will.
People who are childlike are uncomplicated and wise, loving, and trusting in God as Father. They feel sheltered and safe in God’s love, with a sound faith and confidence in both God and in their own strength (which has been given to them by God). The childlike live their lives peacefully and without worry about the past or future. Childlike persons know that whatever happens to them at every moment was foreseen for them by the Father and will contribute to their formation. Their only concern is to discover what God wants from them right now.
You might say that childlikeness is a holy innocence generated by love of God, rather than ignorance, as some might think. True childlikeness is a virtue and is dependent upon the workings of the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit is the spirit of childlikeness. It is he who with unspeakable moanings utters the word, ‘Father’ in our hearts. He wants to bestow on us the status and attitude of childlikeness,” wrote Servant of God and Founder of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt, Father Joseph Kentenich.
He also wrote, “In as far as childlikeness is a virtue, we must continuously exercise it, in as far as it is a gift of the Holy Spirit , we must strive for humility, the spirit of prayer, and confidence.”
When the Holy Innocents died, they had the pure, simple heart that I long for and desire to strive toward. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to meet Jesus at the end of my life with a completely pure heart like those beautiful little martyrs, but I know I want it. It’ll take a lot of hard work and I’m sure to fall again and again. Un-complicating myself will take considerable unwinding. When I get discouraged, I’ll rely on the intercession of the little saints who gave their lives for the Child.
I urge you to do the same.
It’s still possible, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to become childlike and regain the innocence of the Innocents.
When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more. (Mt 2:13-18)