Monday, December 28, 2015

Why all this death?

“Rachel Weeping for Her Children”
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I wrote just a few days ago about how the Church goes immediately from celebrating the birth of our Savior to the death of the first Christian Martyr.    The very next day the celebrate John the Evangelist, followed by the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  Why all this death?  Why do we go from such a gentle and loving scene... one which so many can identify with.   To this scene of the death of innocent children? 

We could talk about how that Mathew is portraying Jesus as the new Moses.   Just as Pharoah killed the young Hebrew children, so too did Herod.  That's an important thing to realize.  That Mathew is portraying Jesus as the new Law Giver, the new Prophet, the New Man to lead us out of slavery from the oppressive forces of sin.  I think though there is even more.  The Church has put these three feasts back to back immediately after Christmas for another reason I think. 

Christmas of course teaches us to have Jesus born in our hearts.  Not just on a single day, but throughout our lives.   That makes us Christian.  Through Baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ and forgiven for our sins.  It doesn't just end there though.  It has to continue.  Conversion is not just a single event, not just something that happens only once.. but it's something that happens over and over.  Every day.  Every breath.  Every time we choose God over sin we are having a moment of conversion.  We might have had a huge mountain top experience at one point, but we still must keep growing.  Becoming more like Christ every day.

That brings us to our first feast, Stephen.  This is one example of how Christians behave.  It's an example of what it takes to get to Heaven, right?   If you die for your faith we Christians believe you will go to Heaven.   The early Christians believed it so strongly that they would sing hymns and rejoice on the way to the collossiums to be killed.  People were converted by the faith they witnessed.  I think that's one of the examples we are given right after Christmas to show us an important fact.  Having Jesus born in our hearts means being willing to die for our faith, it means standing up for our faith and witnessing to it.  Most of us aren't in danger of this at the moment, but some people are.   In other countries we see a genocide being committed.  Ninevah has been eradicated, a group that has been Christian since the time of Christ, is now gone.

Then we see John the Evangelist.   John was indeed ready to die for his faith.  Legend has it that he was boiled alive in oil... and lived.   So they banished him to an island where he spent the last of his life.  John didn't die a martyr, but we still consider him to be in Heaven.  I think this is another way that the Church is showing us to live for Christ.  That we must stay true to our faith until the end, tackling whatever crosses come our way.  That some of us are going to die quietly, but we shoudl do so with faith.  Just yesterday I went to deliver Holy Communion to a parishioner.  She spoke of her faith.  She spoke of her impending death.  She cried.  We cried.  Her faith was powerful.   She is not afraid to die.  She is ready to go on.  She spoke of Jesus with a faith that said "I know this man.  I am so happy to go be with him."   She thanked us over and over again for bringing him to her in the Eucharist.  She said it was the most important thing to her right now. That's an example for us all.

Then you have the third way, the one that is hardest to talk about, isn't it?  The innocent.  The lives that are lost but had no chance to convert.   Among these the most obvious would be the unborn lives that have never had the chance to live outside the womb.  Just this morning I saw an article about a woman who was upset that a magazine cover showed a fetus and it looked "too much like a baby."  It brings it home doesn't it?  That a fetus looks like a baby? People don't like to think about this.   The thing is, at one time even Christians worried that someone who was not baptized would go to hell, or at best some place called Limbo.   Now, as we see with this feast, we trust in God's mercy.  We Catholics believe that if a child dies before the age of reason they go to Heaven to be with God.  Just like the Holy Innocents that Herod killed.   We don't believe they are in some separate state, but rather that God's mercy reaches out to those who do not know, those who had no choice, or those who just can't make a decision.   That includes all of those who never were evangelized, or did not have the mental capacity to make a choice.   We believe that God loves all and has mercy on all.  Then we trust. We trust that those who committed suicide are able to go to Heaven.  That those who were shot by a gang member while walking home are with Him.   That those who simply did not know, that his mercy pours over them.

That brings another group of innocents.   How many are fleeing persecution from regimes that want their death, seeking asylum in our countries.. only to be turned away.  Sure, there are some who are trying to harm us.  We should not be ignorant of that.  There are some radicals who may hide among them trying to get into places to kill... but what of the innocent?  What of the children?  The young mothers, the widows and orphans?  The truly innocent?  How do we turn our backs on them especially at Christmas time and almost forget them?

Yes, I think the Church groups these together to remind us that our faith only begins at Christmas... it must continue through till our own Easter.   That's a powerful reminder of resurrection isn't it?  Our own personal Easter is going to be unique.. it's going to be ours.. no one else can live our lives for us.. and no one else is going to have a death exactly the same as ours... but praise be to God that we can all be resurrected if we have but faith.   My homebound friend has given me an example of the way that I hope I am able to experience Easter.   With faith.   With patience.  With joy.  With confidence.  She did not speak of fear, even if it might be there.   Rather she worried about her child and how much of a burden she was on them, she worried about them... not herself.  I heard not one selfish word come out her mouth.. but rather I stood and listened to Jesus speak through her. 

Heavy things to think of.. but again I must say, Christmas has no meaning without Easter.  

His servant and yours,
Brian