I was nine years old, and I was carrying a coffin.
Not just any coffin. This one held the tiny bodies of hundreds of aborted infants rescued from a dumpster, and I was among several children who were participating in their burial service at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Milwaukee in 1984. Pro-life mourners and local media crowded around the gravesite, and I stepped carefully, conscious of how precious a load we bore. I remember the small box being lowered into the ground as we watched solemnly.
The grave marker read, “Holy Innocents” and in time, over a thousand victims of legalized abortion were laid to rest there, given a dignity in death they were denied in their brief lives.
It’s not the kind of thing one ever forgets, but this time of year our liturgical calendar resurrects the memory in a very poignant way.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the Church gives to us a somber memorial which concretizes what could very possibly become, thanks to elves and snowmen, an overly sentimental feast of Christ’s birth. Each year, December 28 marks the memorial of the Holy Innocents.
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)
This day we are asked to remember and honor the lives of the little boys of Bethlehem, cruelly slaughtered by the command of the jealous and grasping Herod. We are reminded that Christ came not only in poverty and humility but in grave danger – our little Savior was a hunted refugee. We recall that Christmas, far from just lights, gifts, and feelings of goodwill, was a real historical moment – when heaven plunged into earth, taking on time and space and shaking the foundations of the world. And evil, sensing the rumblings of its defeat, lashes out at the littlest ones. On this day, we weep with Rachel.
This post originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.
Detail of Rubens’ ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’ from Wikimedia Commons.