“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Monday, December 28, 2009


Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not. Thus saith the Lord: Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thy eyes from tears: for there is a reward for thy work, saith the Lord: and they shall return out of the land of the enemy.
(Jer 31:15-16)

And all that sat in the council, looking on him, saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel.
(Acts 6:15)
Matthew points us to Jeremiah for a prophecy of the Holy Innocents. We needed the pointer, because most people would have thought that he was referring to the Assyrian slaughter of the Kingdom of Israel. That is where most of her children, and those of her maidservant, resided. Save the tiny tribe of Benjamin, the tribal family structure of all her children all but ceased. The surviving dominant tribe of Judah and the priestly tribe of Levi would better be described as the children of her older sister Leah.

But Matthew reminds us that the Word of God is not limited in meaning. The children of Bethlehem are hers, as this is the location of her tomb. Thus we can proceed to the words of comfort that dilute the sorrow of story. "Let thy voice cease from weeping, and thy eyes from tears: for there is a reward for thy work, saith the Lord: and they shall return out of the land of the enemy."

Two years ago today, my family was in our parish chapel for Mass. My son, Jack II, a joyful boy that would give Saint Stephen a run for his money in the most angelic face category, was just a tad over two years old. His language was at a stage where he knew very few words of his own, but could do a manageable job of parroting what he's heard. Even before his birth, we thought this boy would one day be a priest. This day of two years ago, he would provide yet another confirmation.

After communion, as the celebrant was finishing with the purification of the sacred vessels, the chapel was silent as can be. My son took advantage of the silence. He had quietly observed Mass from start to finish. He was too young to be bored. His older sister, Jackie I, was at that stage, and she was working her way through that boredom. Jack III wasn't yet a year old.

The priest made his way to the chair to be seated for a moment. At this particular parish chapel, the congregation universally remains kneeling until the closing prayer. As the priest sat down, Jack 2, for no reason we can figure out, shouted twice, "Re-joice!"

This brings to mind the words of Saint Paul from a little over two short weeks previous, "Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, rejoice." It's Christmas, of course. This day of Christmas, though, reminds us that the Lord is a sign of contradiction (Luke 2:34, Acts 28:22).

I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I, but that it be kindled? And I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized: and how am I straitened until it be accomplished? Think ye, that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, no; but separation. For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided: three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against his father, the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother, the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53)

Since our first miscarriage, we've had a special connection to this Feast of the Holy Innocents. It's a sad connection, still in the back of our mind wondering what person was lost. Was it a boy or girl? What would he or she have looked like or been like? And try as I do, it is hard to understand why some die before baptism. I certainly have no claim to any merit for my baptism.

It's hard. Any family that's been through it knows that, though the grief is handled in different ways. Most friends of ours are certain that they have saints in Heaven interceding for them. We do pray to our departed children, now three in number. As far as their status, all I have to say is that I don't know and the Church doesn't know. The news is primarily good, though:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. (CCC, 1261)

I guess Limbo could be looked at as their worst possible fate, and that should be enough for my peace. Still, there is a pain that we carry. There is a desire that can't be fulfilled. And that's the way it will remain until the day that He fixes the mess that we make.

This day two years ago, we were just two to three weeks from laying to rest our second miscarriage. The death of innocents read in the liturgy was a reminder of the innocents that the Lord himself took, by his own accord, from our joy. Quite appropriately, we often are reminded on this day in the homily that abortion is our modern day equivalent of this biblical slaughter, only on a much higher scale.

But at least the abortionists can't see the face of the children!

How could Herod's thugs have slaughtered children in their mother's arms? This kind of depravity is unimaginable. Certainly not unprecedented - from Genghis Khan to Hitler to Saddam Hussein, we have plenty of examples to show that this kind of depravity is possible. But still beyond imagination.

Similarly, we celebrated the martyrdom of Saint Stephen just two days ago. They stoned him, even though they knew he was innocent. The Sanhedrin saw that he had the face of an angel, the face of innocence, and they still had him stoned.

How could they? How?

Early in Christmas, we commemorate two great acts of murder. It seems so distant from the tranquil adoration of the shepherds just a few days ago. Yet my son had it right. Rejoice! As one man with the blood of Stephen on his hands said, "Rejoice in the Lord always!" These days of Christmas should shock us out of our sentimental picture of an idealistic Nativity scene. The contradiction should not be blurred. If it is blurred, then we'll always be at the whim of apparent fortune.

We must trust in the Lord, as the man with Stephen's blood on his hands once said, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." That means abortion, miscarriage, terrorism, despotism, genocide, starvation, etc., etc. Our challenge is to stay in the fight for good, but not be scandalized by the bad. Never get discouraged.

Sorrow is as certain as death and taxes. If rejoicing is a certain reaction for us as well, we'll be much further along. How many of us have looked into the face of Jesus and sinned? We have the blood of God on our hands, yet that same blood can cover our sins. How's that for a contradiction?

As we commemorate the death of innocents this Christmas, let us rejoice. Because to us was born the most innocent of the innocents, who will turn his own murder into our redemption. If the urge hits you, remind the somber that today is a day of Christmas - God came down to us -us in our depravity. No matter what happens, no act of evil will overcome that. Rejoice!

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself. (John 12:32)

Thou must leave thy lowly dwelling,
The humble crib, the stable bare.
Babe, all mortal babes excelling,
Content our earthly lot to share.
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!
Loving father, Loving mother,
Shelter thee with tender care!
Shelter thee with tender care!

Blessed Jesus, we implore thee
With humble love and holy fear.
In the land that lies before thee,
Forget not us who linger here!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!
May the shepherd's lowly calling,
Ever to thy heart be dear!
Ever to thy heart be dear!

Blest are ye beyond all measure,
Thou happy father, mother mild!
Guard ye well your heav'nly treasure,
The Prince of Peace, The Holy Child!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!
God go with you, God protect you,
Guide you safely through the wild!
Guide you safely through the wild!

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