Tag Archives: Holy Innocents

Fear and the innocents of Aleppo

“Fear kills you,
and you kill them.”
St. Quodvultdeus 

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the children killed by Herod’s troops in Bethlehem. Some early writers talked of several hundred children, but it may have been only between six and twenty-five. But the death of every innocent – by war, by abortion, by terror – should cause us to grieve. But…

In a homily on the Creed, cited above, St. Quodvultdeus (whose name means “what God wills”) addresses King Herod, reminding him that the fear that moved him to kill the innocent is killing him from within.

Fear is at the root of Herod’s rage which moves him to kill the Innocents of Bethlehem, in his effort to kill Jesus, the newborn king. As Robert Ellsberg puts it so succinctly in All Saints,

It is the constant fear of every tyrant that somewhere, perhaps in an obscure village, perhaps at that very moment, there is a baby born who will one day signal the end of his power.

Fear kills something in us and moves us to kill, to consider the Other as enemy, as a threat to my power, to my existence.

That, too, is the point of one of Thomas Merton’s most pointed essays in New Seeds of Contemplation, “The Root of War Is Fear,” an essay which merits prayerful reading in these days.

At the root of all war is fear: not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

Fear consumes us. I see it consuming the people around me. I observe, from a distance, the fear that seems to be consuming people in the US.

And so war rages around us.

We fear for our lives and safety and so innocent children suffer, especially the innocents in Aleppo, Syria.

The foreign policies of Russia, Syria, the United States and many other countries are based in fear and so they rely on bombs, drones, and weapons of mass destruction (nuclear and otherwise) to seek security.

But we have let fear consume us. And so the children suffer.

There is an image by Judith Mehr going around the internet these days , entitled “Omran,angels are here,”which has at its center a child wounded in Aleppo, surrounded by three angels, who remind us of the three angels who visited Abraham.

Who will be the angels that comfort the children, the mothers, the victims of bombings?


Fear and the slaughter of innocents

Neither the mothers’ tears nor the fathers’ grief,
nor the cries of the children themselves touch you, O Herod.
Fear kills you and you kill them.
St. Quodvultdeus

The Chapel of the Divine Child in Bethlehem University has a series of beautiful frescoes, remembering the Holy Innocents and other child martyrs. When I visited the US Christian Brother told me that the artist who painted the frescoes in 1957 and 1958 was inspired by the faces of Palestinian children in Bethlehem.



As I contemplate the faces I think of the many Palestinian children who have been killed, especially those in Gaza.

It is not that I want to forget the Israeli children killed nor the children killed by ISIS and Al-Queda or by US or Russian bombs. Nor can I forget the children killed in massacres in Ruanda or El Salvador and Guatemala.

But let us pray today for all the innocent children killed.

I believe that many are killed today for the same reasons that moved Herod to kill the innocents in Bethlehem centuries ago: fear.

A hymn from Benedictine Daily Prayer well expresses this:

The tyrant Herod, filled with dread and fear,
When told that Christ the Infant King was near,
Was wild with rage and gave command to slay
All infants under two without delay.

Fear kills us, blinding us to the images of the suffering, rending us deaf to the cries of the victims, hardening our hearts so that we cannot recognize the others as our sisters and brothers.

Thomas Merton once wrote that the root of war is fear – a marvelous essay in New Seeds of Contemplation. Fear is not only the root o war but of the massacre of innocents who threaten the powers of this world.

fRemembering today the feast of the Holy Innocents, let us pray that God will remove the fear in the hearts of so many and move all of us to become advocates of the victims.

This for me is the message of the feast of the Holy Innocents.


Fear and the Innocents

It is the constant fear of every tyrant
that somewhere, perhaps in a obscure village,
perhaps at that very moment,
there is a baby born who will one day signal the end of his power.
Robert Ellsberg,  All Saints

 Today we remember the Holy Innocents, the male children two years and under who were killed by Herod’s troops, told only in Matthew’s Gospel. Herod was threatened by the report of the Magi of the newborn King of the Jews. In fear and rage he responded with what the powers of this world always have at their disposal – death.

Tyrants and all those who seek to hold on to control are threatened by the new and react in fear. As St. Quodvultdeus said in a sermon:

You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart.

Fear destroys others because it destroys the person who fears. Fear pales in the face of uncertainty and the lack of control. Fear keeps us from welcoming the newborn king of the Jews.

Today activists recall those children whose lives have been taken in war and whose lives are threatened by war and nuclear weapons. Other activists recall those killed by abortion. We should also remember those children killed each day by hunger, oppression, and injustice.

About 1965, Emily Sargent Councilman wrote a short poem that, perhaps, shines some light in the darkness of the death of the innocent:


The Herods of the world,
fearful for their power,
send soldiers
to slaughter
The Caesars of the earth
dispatch armies
to implement decrees
for conquest
and taxes.
But the God
above all governors
came himself,
his armor and his purpose:
We have read the pages
of centuries.
will we dare
to write