A voice is heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more. -Matt. 2:18 quoting Jer. 31:15
Our week of martyrs continues, and the contrast (at least in age) between yesterday and today's saints couldn't be more dramatic. St. John lived into his mid 90s, none of the Holy Innocents lived past the age of two. While St. John's importance to the Church is as numerous as his days, the Holy Innocents are crucial because of their lack of age. As the name implies, the youngest of the Church's canonized martyrs are important because of their innocence; besides the Blessed Virgin Mary, they are probably the only other saints who have not committed sin.
For the uninitiated, the Holy Innocents are the baby boys of Bethlehem who Herod the Great, after being hoodwinked by the Holy Spirit (when God warned the Magi in a dream NOT to tell Herod where the Christ Child was) ordered their massacre. The estimate of how many children were actually slaughtered ranges from Butler's "no more than a few" to Syrian menologies 64,000, and while the real number is certainly somewhere in between, it is the significance of these martyrs "who died instead of Christ" that matters.
An Opus Dei priest once told me that the devil desires blood, and the younger and more innocent, the better. From the time of Cain and Abel, Satan has managed to twist men's minds into murdering his brother, and for almost as long, Lucifer has convinced civilizations to sacrifice children. Whether it is ancient cultures sacrificing their newborn to the gods, Herod (whom the non-Christian historian Josephus described as "a man of great barbarity toward everybody") slaughtering today's young saints, or selfish modern parents aborting their children in 2006, the devil seems to be getting his share. On the one hand, his strategy doesn't make sense; surely the devil knows by now (as Ignatius of Antioch succinctly summarized), "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians." But in a shortsighted way, it is genius, for the killing of innocent blood so shocks the human heart that, as with Rachel, it has the potential to paralyze us in grief.
But, in these moments of sorrow, if we can just see our way to even a short prayer (and in sad times, prayer to the Holy Innocents is perfect), we realize that Christ has shed His Blood precisely to free us from such fear. From the blood of the lamb, sprinkled on their doorways, that saved the Israelites from the Angel of Death, to the Lamb of God shedding His Blood on the Cross, to His Body and Blood being offered at every Catholic Mass, Christ has given us the Blood which not only nourishes our souls but spurs us on to save others. Like the Holy Innocents, let us offer ourselves as hope to the hopeless, whether it be an unenlightened frightened expectant mother trying to make the right "choice," a shattered tattered homeless man trying to find shelter or something to eat, or an abused confused intellectual trying to find his way back to faith. For if you do, you will find your own lost innocence miraculously restored again.
On a personal note, my wife Jeanette miscarried a baby on this day in 1988, so the Feast of the Holy Innocents holds a special significance for us. I have no doubt our babe in heaven not only prays for us, but gets his or her cool young martyr friends to do the same. Party on, Holy Innocents!