Tuesday, December 27, 2016

THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS


Homily for December 28th, 2016: Matthew 2:13-18.

          Which of us does not remember the brutal killing of 20 young schoolchildren, first and second graders, in Newtown/CT six years ago? It happened the Friday before the third Sunday in Advent, which is called “Rejoice Sunday” because the readings are about joy and rejoicing. I was away from St. Louis, visiting friends in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington/DC, and staying in the rectory of a large parish. I had prepared a homily for Rejoice Sunday, on the theme of joy.  

          As soon as the terrible news came from Connecticut, I knew I could not preach about joy, when our hearts were breaking at the slaughter these innocent children. Away from home, and without access to the books I use for homily preparation, and the mass of material already on my computer, I was unable to produce the full text which I would have prepared at home. I reflected long and hard about what I could say which would help people grieving over this tragedy. And I prayed that the Holy Spirit would give me the words I needed.   

At 11 o’clock on that Sunday morning I stood before a congregation of at least 300 people to speak about grief and how God can bring good out of evil. My own voice was breaking as I did so. When I finished, I knew that God had answered my prayers for inspiration and guidance. The whole congregation erupted in applause. And I remember saying to myself: “It’s not about you, Jay, it is about the Lord.”

          Today’s gospel tells us about a tragedy every bit as great as that one three years ago. In a frantic attempt to kill the baby king whom the Wise Men from the East had told him about when they passed through Jerusalem two years before, the cruel Gentile tyrant Herod ordered the slaughter of all the boys in and near Bethlehem two years old and younger.

          We cannot observe the feast of the Holy Innocents in America today without thinking of the mass killing of unborn children, a quarter of all babies conceived, which goes on day after day and year after year, leaving their mothers, most of them acting under pressure from others, burdened for life with regrets, shame, and guilt – a burden no woman should have to bear. This modern slaughter of the innocents will end only when hearts and minds are changed and people become as ashamed of abortion as we now are about slavery. For that we pray at Mass today.