Honoring the Holy Innocents in Advent

Image: Le Massacre des Innocents, P.P. Rubens (1577-1640)

“If we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another.” -1 John 1: 7

“Our experience and history [as Catholic missionaries] shows that military might has not brought peace and cannot make up for corrupt and unjust structures and governments. -Missionary Society of St. Columban

During Advent, God makes us a promise: “I will make a just shoot spring up for David; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; this is the name they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice.’” (Jer 33: 15-16).

In this proclamation, God tells us what our Christmas gift will be: a fair and just servant-leader; a world where everyone has peace and prosperity.

“The Lord our justice” is Jesus himself, and the world he will bring about is the Kingdom of God.

Some people, however, have felt threatened by God’s promise. Matthew’s Gospel records that King Herod was greatly troubled when he heard of Jesus’ coming (Mt 2:3). Herod plotted to stop Jesus, because he was afraid that this promised servant-leader would set his people free. When Herod’s initial plan was thwarted by the three Wise Men, “he ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under” (Mt 2:16) to ensure his continued rule.

Herod tried to use the weapons of war to stymy God’s plan for peace, killing innocent children and traumatizing their families. Herod’s injustice “makes manifest the opposition of darkness to light” that has existed throughout history (CCC, #530).

The Church honors the victims of Herod’s violence during the Feast of the Holy Innocents, celebrated shortly after Christmas Day. On that day, we affirm that each child “died a martyr – a first martyr for Christ – giving his life so that Jesus, the newborn king, might live” (America Magazine).

2,000 years later, there are still Herods in this world, using new weapons of war to disrupt God’s plan for peace. In their wake, they massacre more “holy innocents.”

For 100 years, Columban missionaries have lived in and accompanied communities in countries where violence and military might are prevalent. This experience motivates us to work with others to change attitudes, actions, and structures that are opposed to peace – in other words, to prepare the way for the Lord.

During the four weeks of Advent, the Columban Center will share a story from a different country about the “holy innocents” of today, so that we may stand in solidarity with them and give witness to the hope and the promise of the Kingdom of God. After each week’s story, we've recommend three activities: one to learn more, one to pray, and one to act.

We pray that this series helps promote peace, and enriches your celebration of Advent. During this season of eager expectation, we hope it inspires each reader to be more mindful of the fact that God is calling on us to help lay the groundwork for Jesus’ coming (Mt 25: 1-13).

This year, may the Holy Innocents remind us that “our proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus challenges us to build communities of peace” (Columban “Peace and Demilitarization” Statement).

Happy Advent and merry Christmas! 

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