With the Feast of the Holy Innocents, we come to the third of three celebrations of martyrs, or those who gave their lives for the Christ who gave His life for them. St. Stephen was put to death, a willing martyr for Jesus Christ; St. John was a “martyr” of love who willing offered his life while alive; and the Holy Innocents gave their lives vicariously for the Christ, whom Herod sought. The Feast of the Holy Innocents has been celebrated since the fifth century.
The fact that when God became man He began life in the womb and then as an infant should cause us to ponder God and His kingdom for a moment. It means something that God became not just a man but before that a child and before that a baby. While the first Adam was created fully formed, the Second Adam was created an embryo. The one who was formed full and strong should have been able to keep God’s will but didn’t, and the one that was weak and helpless, by the grace of God, perfectly kept His holy will.
Children are a picture of the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus uses them as such. If it’s true that faith grows like a seed that is planted, how much more is faith pictured by the growth of one made in the image of God.
The fact is that God says children are a blessing from the Lord, and the way that we treat children reveals a lot about the way we relate to God.
We all like to pay attention to those who are powerful and rich and famous: it’s a natural human instinct. Even in the Christian world, our heads are turned by the superstars of the Christian world, those with name recognition of large churches they have built. If we had to pick candidates for disciples upon whom we would like to build a church, we’d probably pick the smooth talkers, the type A personalities, the CEOs, the raconteurs, the joke tellers, the politicians, the self-made millionaires, the glowing athletes, the winners of popularity contests, and those who are aggressive and confident.
But Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is built upon those who are like little children. The people upon whom He builds His Church and those who are greatest in His kingdom are those who are like little children. Little children, who cannot protect themselves. Little children who we so easily overlook. Little children who seem insignificant and not worth the effort. Little children who know that there isn’t much that they can do for themselves.
What little children have that God desires is humility. Now as children get older, and even in younger children, humility is not always present. But by their very nature, small children are humble humans, even if they sometimes think they are the center of the universe. By their nature, children teach us that the Kingdom of Heaven is about what God does for us and not what we are able to do.
Therefore, today we should spend some time, as we celebrate those little children who died for the Christ who would die for them, considering how we treat children. How we treat children will tell us a lot about how we relate to God. Jesus cared about children not just as a convenient sermon illustration: He cared about them as children.
The number of children people in the U.S. have murdered by abortion is often noted on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The last time I looked, we’ve killed 47 million babies. Ruthless Herod probably only killed around a dozen or so children in his pursuit of Jesus near Bethlehem. We’ve murdered more than a million times more in the past 33 years, a number that represents about 1/5 of the entire population of world at time of Jesus. Regardless of what you may have heard, about 98% of these abortions have been abortions of convenience: only 2% are from the “hard cases” of threats to the health of the mother or child or rape and incest (and even some of these cases don’t represent compelling reasons.) The vast majority of abortions are because the mother “wasn’t ready,” or because the childinterfered with other plans, was unplanned, was unwanted, or cost too much.
Children are a gift from God and made in His image. Abortion is only one measure of how little we love God or His gifts, especially when they aren’t exactly what we had ordered. When we do have children, we often don’t do it God’s way. Almost 40% of children in the U.S. are born out of wedlock. Among blacks, about 70% of all children are born out of wedlock (in 1960, this number was only 23%.) Even on a human level, we know that the number one cause of poverty is single-parent families, and yet we have illegitimate children and wonder why no one does anything about the children.
In the U.S., Christians are not making more Christians. Young people are leaving the churches never to return. We have to ask ourselves “Why?” Have we been too busy for our children? Have we valued other, more “powerful” or “interesting” or “important” things than discipling our children?
We should take seriously Jesus’ words about whoever causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better to have a millstone around his neck and be drowned in the sea. Whoever receives such a child receives Jesus, for of such is the kingdom. Of such is the kingdom not only in terms of the humility and weakness of children, but because they are the ones who become full-grown disciples.
About 12 times as many people are made Christians each year by being born into the faith as are made Christians by being converted from some other belief. For all of the effort we make to evangelize those who have never heard, I think we’d better keep our eyes on our children. The safest, most comprehensive way to make a dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ is to train up your children in the ways of the Lord.
Children are a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven.
On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, let’s meditate on ways to love God by loving children.
Resolution: I resolve to consider today how I may more highly value the children in my life.
Prayer: O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings has ordained strength, and made infants to glorify You by their deaths; mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by Your grace, that by the innocence of our lives, and constancy of our faith even to death, we may glorify Your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Meditate on the weakness of children. In what ways are you called to recognize your weakness before God that you might acknowledge His strength?
2. What child-like or “weak” people may be in your life that you have not sufficiently valued?
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Holy Innocents by Giotto
Category: Give Us This Day