Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

Today we remember the slaughter of all the male children under the age of two in Bethlehem in the days after the birth of Jesus. Why were they killed? Because of Herod's feelings of inadequacy, because of his fear. Today we might say, "What an idiot that Herod was!" And yet, if you look around, you'll see that we haven't really grown that much as a people.

We are still likely to respond to our feelings of inadequacy with lethal force. Instead of saying, "How interesting," we say, "How stupid!" And then we go to great lengths to prove that we're right, and whatever is making us feel inadequate is wrong.

So often, in my adult life, I feel like I will never escape middle school. I remember middle school as a particular kind of hell, where the boundaries were always fluid. Kids who were acceptable one day were pariahs the next. Middle school bodies are always changing, and middle school children are under assault from their own hormones, from the changing expectations of adults, from their bodies that take up space differently each day, from an increased school work load, from the crisis that comes out of nowhere to undo all the hard work done.

Adult life can sometimes feel the same way. We fight to achieve equilibrium, only to find it all undone. Most of us don't have the power that Herod does, so our fight against powerlessness doesn't end in corpses. But it often results in a world of outcasts and lone victors.

Of course, the paragraphs above are not meant to downplay the physical deaths that can happen when the powerful lash out against the powerless. We live in a world where dictators can efficiently kill their country's population by the thousands or greater. There's never a good reason for genocide. Yet the twentieth century will be remembered for all the genocides that took place, the ones we knew about and the slaughters that we likely didn't.

On this day, we also remember the flight into Egypt, the Holy Family turned into refugees. We remember the Holy Family fleeing in Terror, with only the clothes on their backs. Today is a good day to pray for victims of terror everywhere, the ones that get away, the ones that are slaughtered.

Here's a prayer for the day, from Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime: "We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you , in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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