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An Examination of Conscience for the Feast of the Holy Innocents


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Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 12/28/16

On the blood of innocents—whose hands are clean?

What is the blood of innocent children worth? Is it worth everything? Nothing? Or somewhere in-between? Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we recall the martyrdom of infant boys ordered by Herod, who hoped to slaughter the Christ child—a fitting day to ask disturbing questions.

For some, the blood of infants is an instrument of power, as was seen in the cults of child sacrifice that surrounded ancient Israel. For others, innocent flesh is a path to profit—as seen in Planned Parenthood marketing aborted babies. And for those like Herod, life and innocence count for nothing—and may be rubbed out for the sake of expedience.

We might take today, while still surrounded by Christmas decorations, to reflect on abortion as a leading cause of death in America. But that focus might unduly narrow the scope of our examination of conscience. Let’s focus on the selfish rage of Herod, who murdered anyone who may have challenged him.

Barclay wrote: “Here is a terrible illustration of what some people will do to get rid of Jesus Christ. If they are set on their own course, if they see in Christ someone who is liable to interfere with their ambitions and rebuke their ways, their one desire is to eliminate Christ; and then they are driven to the most terrible things, for if they do not break others physically, they will break their hearts.”

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Christians, beware! From the day of his birth, Jesus was seen as a menace to the Kingdom of Sin. One medieval commentator warned: “For when kings’ wrath is stirred by fear for their crowns, it is a great and inextinguishable wrath.”

We might shake our head and beat our breast as we read of such terrible things in and about Scripture. But let’s be careful, lest we pray like the self-satisfied Pharisee who gave thanks that he was “not like the rest of men.” (Luke 18:11) However true it may be that we do not literally have innocent blood on our hands, or traffic in human flesh or order the deaths of our rivals, I think we have more of a resemblance to Herod and his ilk than we’d care to admit.

Today at breakfast my 6-year old niece asked, “How did the Devil get made?” I replied, “The Devil used to be a good angel. But he turned bad when he was disobedient and loved himself more than God. He wanted to be in charge and not God.” That’s the story of the fall of Lucifer—and it is the story of our fall as well.

To the degree that we are sinners, to that same degree we are like those who “fear for their crowns”—that is, we jealously guard the illusion of our sovereignty as we withhold the love and obedience that is due to God alone. Confronted with the truth of God’s sovereignty, we sinners respond with “a great and inextinguishable wrath.” We are provoked to murderous rage in our rebellion against the First Commandment. One way or another, we sinners end up with the blood of innocents on our hands. And the irony is that the only way that we can become innocent ourselves is to be purified in the Blood of the Supremely Innocent One, Christ Who is the Innocent Lamb of God. (Revelation 7:14)

So soon after the joys of Christmas Day, the Church asks us to reflect on the calamity of the loss of innocence, and the painful and costly way that our innocence may be regained. The Church doesn’t ask us merely to recall a tragic episode from the distant past. And She does more than simply ask us to see the ancient tragedy replayed in our own times. Rather, the Church today insists that we confess the battle for eternal life and death taking place within our own hearts at this very moment.

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In love, God has called us into existence. By our baptism we are consecrated for resurrection and destined for glory. By our sin, we reject grace and squander our inheritance. In true mercy, which is awash in the Precious Blood of God’s Only-begotten Son, we are invited to pass from this life “through the narrow gate” of righteous living and enter into the eternal kingdom of our Heavenly Father, our only true home.

In the time we have left, we must confess that we who are called to glory have within us the ability to become bloody monsters like Herod or bloody mercenaries like Planned Parenthood. The blood of the Holy Innocents testifies to the wickedness of man; the Blood of Christ testifies to the mercy of God. It is time to choose.

When I write next, I will speak of combining the power of habit with the virtue of gratitude. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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