Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The other Babies of Bethlehem

Today's feast of the Holy Innocents can be a real head-scratcher. How can infants and toddlers be hailed as martyrs? Isn't that taking things too far?

And yet.

I am beginning to think that this feast offers us one the most profound interpretation of life. For Herod, the Innocents were just collateral damage in his attempt to protect the throne he would lose anyway--when he died before those babies could have even learned to tie their own sandals. As meaningless as the deaths of those babies could seem--just a couple of dozen more victims of one of history's many despots--this feast claims that their little lives were meaningful indeed, even though they could not articulate that meaning for themselves. 

After all, who gets to assign meaning to a human life when it is taken by force? The one doing the taking? The judges of history, seeing if any "benefit" came out of their suffering?

One of my daily prayer intentions is for the conversion of scientists involved in embryo research. Every day, I pray that "one more" will be converted from this hideous pursuit in which "surplus" embryos (whether from people's misguided attempts at overcoming infertility, or from abortion, or--Heaven help us--created in a laboratory for experimental purposes) are conscripted like so many minute slaves forced into someone else's service.  How far does the noble goal of saving lives and overcoming dread diseases go in bestowing genuine meaning on these tens of thousands of deaths? Does that imputed meaning legitimate the exploitation of these utterly helpless members of the human family, or are they simply new, nameless victims of someone else's power? Can one human being determine or direct the meaning of another's life?

It is not the oppressor, the despot, the murderer, the exploiter, who determines the meaning of a victim's life, but only God who gave that life.  Today's feast "claims for Christ" every innocent suffering, every betrayed love, every broken trust. Why? Because Jesus took on our humanity, making himself one with each and every person: with the victims of sin and injustice, to endure their lot, and with their oppressors, murderers and abusers, to atone for them--and save them, if they would accept it.

From Pope Benedict's homily for Christmas  Midnight Mass:
  "God has appeared - as a child. It is in this guise that He pits Himself against all violence and brings a message that is peace. At this hour, when the world is continually threatened by violence in so many places and in so many different ways, when over and over again there are oppressors' rods and bloodstained cloaks, we cry out to the Lord: O mighty God, you have appeared as a child and you have revealed yourself to us as the One Who loves us, the One through Whom love will triumph. And you have shown us that we must be peacemakers with you. We love your childish estate, your powerlessness, but we suffer from the continuing presence of violence in the world, and so we also ask you: manifest your power, O God. In this time of ours, in this world of ours, cause the oppressors' rods, the cloaks rolled in blood and the footgear of battle to be burned, so that your peace may triumph in this world of ours."
V.I.S. -Vatican Information Service. 

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