The feast of the Holy Innocents adds a much needed dark side to Christmas, a reminder that from the outset incarnate Love was met with hatred by our race, unable as we so often are to cope with love in all its challenging purity. Today has, unfortunately to my mind, become in recent years an occasion for banging the drum about abortion laws. I have no intention whatsoever of dealing with that particular hot potato in this post. Suffice it to say, however, that even if you believe (as the Church has never authoritatively taught, and numerous figures in the tradition have denied) that an embryo is from the outset a person, the parallels between the aborted and the Holy Innocents are limited.
The victims of Herod are honoured by the Church as martyrs precisely because their killing was an act of opposition to Christ himself. They were killed, according to Matthew’s gospel, as a political action by a leader wanting to shore up his power in his territory and . If you want parallels, I’m afraid you need to look no further than the contemporary Holy Land. Here Christian as well as Muslim Palestinian children are constantly on the receiving end of occupying power. A particularly alarming case has become prominent this Christmas.
As believers in the Incarnation, particular things and particular places matter to us because of their association with Christ’s earthly life. We can hardly then ignore the situation in Palestine, and Holy Innocents day is an excellent time to recommit ourselves to speaking out and to solidarity. For Christians to focus their activism on the wearily familiar issues around reproductive ethics and sexuality is, after all, safe: it involves no serious challenge to geopolitical power. Yet we are not called to be safe, and for the Palestinians safety is no option.