In the Gospel of Matthew (2:13-18), we are told that after the Magi had departed, an angel of the Lord instructed St. Joseph to take Jesus and Mary away from Bethlehem.
As the Holy Family journeys toward Egypt, we are also aware that anger, violence, and murder have been unleashed in the town of Jesus’ birth. For in the aftermath of his deception by the three kings, King Herod has ordered “the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.”
On December 28th, we remember the sacrifice of The Holy Innocents. With their death, we are painfully reminded of human sorrow as told by the prophet Jeremiah (31:15-16):
“Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning, wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward, says the Lord, they shall return from the enemy’s land.”
In their reflection for this Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Word Among Us commentary notes that “the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and Herod’s massacre of innocent children is a dramatic illustration of the battle between darkness and light.” They ask a pointed question: “Why was Herod afraid of this little baby?”
In pondering this, we might find the answer to this question in the 6th and 7th chapter of Acts of the Apostles (6:8-10; 7:54-59). For there, we view the martyrdom of St. Stephen (Deacon and first Christian martyr), whose feast we celebrated on December 26th. We are told that while Stephen was working great wonders and signs among the people, his opponents could not explain the source of the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. After further confrontation with Stephen, they became enraged and moved with fury toward him. As this ensued, Stephen was given a vision of heaven and “saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” In their confrontation with one of God’s holy ones, these enemies of truth covered their ears and rushed upon him together, eventually throwing him out of the city and stoning him to death.
Why such fear over a small child?
In Herod’s case, perhaps he recognized that the greatest of kings had been born. Out of fear, he calculated that the only possible solution was the slaughter of all innocents while remaining hopeful that Jesus was among them.
In regard to the enemies of St. Stephen, perhaps it was because they had finally confronted Truth.
Today, perhaps the same may be said about those who promote a culture of death that annually destroys millions of innocent unborn lives.