No pain is as upsetting and puts to the test our human sensitivity and our faith as innocent pain. It is humanly unsustainable. The Holy Scriptures and the faith of the Church, however, ensure that no tear is shed without it having a priceless value in the eyes of God. The blood of the children killed in Judea by the selfish folly of Herod was so precious and the screams of the tears of their mothers and fathers were so loud that today we celebrate those innocent victims with the glorious title of sainthood and martyrdom..
On 28 December the Church remembers the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, ordered by King Herod in the attempt to kill Jesus, as narrated in the Gospel according to Matthew (2,1-16). Three days after Christmas, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land commemorated this Biblical episode in the Grotto of the Holy Innocents, connected by a passageway to the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Tradition places the tomb of the holy innocents where there was probably a mass grave. A few yards away, there stands the grotto of St Joseph, the place where the angel is believed to have spoken in a dream to Joseph to tell him to flee to Egypt and save Jesus from the fury of Herod. On the altar of St Joseph, the Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Dobromir Jasztal presided the mass dedicated to the commemoration of the Holy Innocents. The Franciscan fraternity of Bethlehem, including the guardian of the convent of the Nativity, Fr. Enrique Segovia Marì, was also present, together with some local faithful and religious.
“The celebration of the feast of the Holy Innocents, which we remember in this place so close to the birthplace of Our Saviour, very eloquently reflects on the life that refuses Jesus and on the life of those who accept him,” said Fr. Dobromir Jasztal in the homily. “Herod does not join the shepherds or the Magi to seek Jesus and rejoice for his birth. He remains in the darkness of his heart and carries out his destruction. The death of the innocents, decreed by Herod, reveals the evil of the sinner who sows hatred and death while the love of the innocent, just like Jesus, bears the fruit of life and salvation.”
The Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land emphasized that the path of our life is always accompanied by light and darkness, the source of which can be external, like pandemics or wars, or internal, like human evilness. “Herod lives and dies in the darkness, without ever seeing the true light,” Fr. Jasztal continued. “Mary and Joseph make the will of God come true, they welcome it with such great generosity and they complete it. Jesus is the light that comes into the world and lights up the life of all those who are willing to welcome him, until he reaches us as well, so that we can choose whether to walk in the light or be defeated by darkness.” The Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land concluded with a prayer. “By intercession of the Holy Innocents, we pray to the Lord so that he may always give us the strength to free us from our selfishness and the courage to see in every being a brother to love and not a threat to fear.”
Custodia Terrae Sanctae