The Holy Innocents
Martyrs at the time of the Nativity of Our Lord
The wily king Herod, who was reigning in Judea at the time of the birth of Our Saviour, learned from three Wise Men from the East that they had come to Jerusalem, advised by a star in the heavens, in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Herod's superstitious fear of losing his throne was awakened, and he grew troubled. He called together the chief priests, questioned them, and learned from them that the awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He said to the strangers: When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and adore Him.
The star which had guided the Magi re-appeared over Bethlehem, and they found the Infant and adored Him, and offered Him their royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, recognizing by these His perfect Divinity, His royalty, and His prophesied sufferings. God warned them in a dream afterwards not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their lands, rejoicing, by a different route. Saint Joseph, too, was warned during his sleep by an Angel to take the Child and His Mother and flee into Egypt, for Herod will seek the life of the Infant.
When Herod realized that the Wise Men would not return, he was furious, and in his rage ordered that every male child in Bethlehem and its vicinity, of the age of two years or less, be slain. These innocent victims were the flowers and first-fruits of the Saviour's legions of martyrs; they triumphed over the world without having ever known it or experienced its dangers.
Reflection: That the Holy Innocents may be invoked to be preserved from illusion is the Church's belief. Herod's illusion of threat from the newborn King cost their lives... How few, perhaps, of these innocent little ones, if they had lived, would have escaped the dangers of the world! From what snares, what sins, what miseries were they preserved! Surely they rejoice now in their fate. We often lament, as misfortunes, many accidents which in the designs of Heaven are the greatest mercies.
The New Testament: Acts of the Apostles; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).