Feast of Holy Innocents Saturday December 28th 2013

 Scripture readings for today's Mass are here.

Gospel Mt 2:13-18

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.

Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.

He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.

He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

 The Magi in The House of Herod James Tissot Source

 Pier Paolo Pasolini's Gospel according to St Matthew still moves me.
Here's the whole video and the first 20 minutes or so, depicts the early scenes of the Nativity and the Gospel texts of this weekend. 
Pasolini's view of Herod's death differs from the account given by first century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who said Herod died a painful death from chronic kidney disease and gangrene in 4BC at the age of 70 !  
See also an archive post on Pasolini's film here.


Massacre of The Holy Innocents Alexey Pismenny Image source.

Massacre of the Innocents by James Tissot. Source.

Related post - Enfleshment 

This powerful poem below was penned by the Cornish poet Charles Causley. It features in Janet Morley's new book - Haphazard by Starlight - A Poem a Day from Advent to Epiphany.


Image source

Innocents Song 
by Charles Causley

Who’s that knocking on the window,
Who’s that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Laying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:

Herod is his name.

I've edited and paraphrased a few of Janet's reflections on the poem below...

 "In a world where abuse of children is extensive and where we frequently witness the slaughter of children, whether caught up in conflict or deliberately targeted by deranged gunmen, we might do well to address what are the roots of violence against children. Five of the stanzas in the poem consist of questions which could be coming from the mouth of an innocent child, wanting an explanation from an adult about a figure who is strange and offers mixed messages about his intentions. 

All the questions remain unanswered until the ending, and even then, it's only to name him, not to explain. The questions become more and more apocalyptic as the poem proceeds..... The technique of expressing horror through unanswered questions leaves the reader's imagination to do the bulk of the work............... 

By the time we arrive at the third stanza.... this overdressed reveller, who himself seems to sing carols (yet hear that extraordinarily alliterative word "caws"- like an ominous tuneless raven), suddenly turns lethal. The rubies on his fingers - a sign of wealth and royalty- already seem to predict the blood that is staining the snow by the end of the verse. 

The "cold, cold crown" speaks of the chilling decisions made by those who weild political power and are determined to hold on to it, however cold-hearted the means of doing so.
The fourth stanza continues the confusing blended messages given off by this creature; does he represent fun or a major threat ? Does he bring teatime treats or leave explosions in his wake ? And this morphs into a global horror when the spider spinning its web across the fireside suddenly becomes a figure capable of detonating atom bombs with the power of " a million suns." 

Yet still there are confusing mentions of sweet cakes- his yellow eyes are like "saffron buns." Innocent temptation and global horror are yoked together. The final stanza is a warning against the double talking Herod who comes in the wake of Christmas celebrations..... In this verse we have the pause of a line space between the description of this dancing threatening figure who cannot be separated from the beautiful candlelight of Christmas, and the first explicit mention of his name. 

Janet Morley concludes "But we should not give house room to the business as usual cold blooded politics that pursues its path over the bodies of children, pretending this is the inevitable price of reality."

The sickening slaughter of the innocent children of Judea told by Matthew brings home the tragic fact of life that the same brutality is being unleashed on women and children by modern day Herod's in this world. Every passing day we read and hear of countless types of violence and oppression, much of which affects children.

The unconsolable grief in this world through its history is enough to fill the oceans and can often fill the darkness of all our dreams and hopes for a better world. Matthew is honest about the misery of the human condition, and some of the griefs that are carried to the grave.  

Matthew's Gospel doesn't conceal the dark side of the first Christmas and neither can we shirk from the darkness inside us. The sufferings of life are many, various and deep. But the prophet and the evangelist Matthew say that those who mourn will be comforted. The beatitudes tell me the same. Matthew quoted Jeremiah so that Rachel would know God's grace in her suffering.

We will always see great suffering in the world. We will suffer ourselves. There may even be times when we refuse to be comforted. But God has comfort for us. Our faith in the resurrected Christ tells us, the day will come when all will be made right with the world, when suffering will come to an end, and yes, a day when even Rachel will dry her tears.

Related articles

No comments: