Vol 7 Issue 52 ~ Editor: Rev. Fr. Courtney Edward Krier
December 27, 2014 ~ Saint John Evangelist
Feast of the Holy Innocents
1. Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
b. Alban Butler
2. The Christian Family (33)
3. Articles and notices
As this year secular year closes there is little to rejoice except for the graces Our Lord has bestowed upon those who remained united with Him in grace. The struggle for one’s salvation and the salvation of one’s family demands a tireless effort and the assistance of God’s intervention. Going it alone means the lost of acknowledging He is in control and knows what is happening and will happen. No one knows tomorrow but God; and no one can be prepared for tomorrow’s trials and tribulations unless God give the grace. To say that I survived the day and will survive tomorrow is not realizing that I did not survive to fulfill God’s plan for me, but only He did not call me out of this present miserable existence—perhaps giving me another day to choose to fulfill His divine Will and obtain the grace of salvation for myself and those I love. Therefore, if we make resolutions for the coming year (perhaps already on the First Sunday of Advent—the beginning of the Church year), may it be a resolution to cooperate with God’s grace by fulfilling His Will perfectly in our lives through the acceptance of our responsibilities as Catholics and in accord with our vocation, be it sacerdotal, religious, or laity.
As always, enjoy the readings and commentaries provided for your benefit. —The Editor
WEEK OF THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT
Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
“Out of the mouth of infants”
- With St. Stephen and St. John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents today bear witness to the newborn King. “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings, O God, Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thy enemies” (Introit). Children and those with the simplicity of children are dear to the heart of Christ. “Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come to me” (Matt. 19: 14).
- Christ, indeed, has enemies. “He was in the world, and the world knew Him not” John 1:10). “Behold this child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). The enemy (Herod) already lurks in Jerusalem nearby. He is determined to destroy the child and orders the brutal murder of the children of Bethlehem and its environs. Wherever Christ is reproduced, in His Person, in His teaching, in His spirit and His commandments, in His Church, and especially in His holy members, He finds contradiction and hatred. “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Persecution is characteristic of true Christianity; it is the mark of the Church and of the true Christian: “If you had been of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15: 19).
Christ has many witnesses: the prophets, the angels, John the Baptist, the shepherds, the star, the wise men of the East, the Holy Innocents. All of these are willing and joyful witnesses of the Savior. Through their untimely death and the ceaseless wail of their distracted mothers, the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem proclaim far and wide the birth of Him whom Herod sought to kill. Of them Christ has said: “You shall be witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:8). One must be with Christ or against Him. One must be a witness to Him or an enemy to Him. There can be no neutrality in the service of Christ.
- Happy were the children of Bethlehem who were privileged to offer their lives for the persecuted and despised Savior. They belong now to the multitude of the elect who have “His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. . . . And they sung, as it were, a new canticle before the throne and before the four living creatures. . . . These were purchased from among men, the first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth there was found no lie; for they are without spot before the throne of God” (Epistle).
The devil could have conferred upon the Holy Innocents no greater favor than that accomplished by his hatred of them. To live, to suffer, and to die for Christ and His cause, is not a loss, but a privilege. “He that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal. If any man minister to Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there also shall My minister be” (John 12: 25 f.).
In the Offertory of the Mass the Holy Innocents represent us. At Mass we bring forward all that we are and have—our life, our body and soul, and all our goods—and offer them freely in witness to the divinity of Christ. We are indeed privileged to thus offer ourselves for Christ; for through this offering and through the union of our life with His, we shall be freed from the slavery of sin and of the flesh. For this reason we rejoice with the Holy Innocents in the Offertory prayer: “Our soul hath been delivered as a sparrow out of the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken, and we are delivered.”
“A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted because they are not” (Communion). These children, however, now live and have communion with the glorified Christ. We, too, shall share this divine life if we share in His passion.
O God, whose praise the martyred Innocents confessed this day, not by speech, but in their death: mortify in us all the evils of vice, that Thy faith which our tongues profess, our lives also may by their actions confess. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Take the child.”
- “Take the child and His mother and go into the land of Israel, for they are dead that sought the life of the child” (Matt. 2;20). Joseph listens attentively to the words of the angel, and taking the child and His mother, he returns to the land of Israel. The Church uses these words in the Communion prayer of today’s Mass and applies them to the Eucharist.
- “Take the child.” The time of the exile in Egypt is passed. It was a time of trial and hardship. Joseph and Mary and the child live in a foreign land, among a people whose religion, customs, and tastes differed from their own. They were undoubtedly subjected to many discomforts and humiliations. Before they fled into Egypt, Joseph had been instructed to “be there until I shall tell thee” (Matt. 2:13). Joseph and Mary do not attempt to shorten the time of their exile; they wait in patience and longing for the call which will bring them back to the land of Israel. They have resigned their wills completely to the will of God. Now the angel appears and says, “Arise and take the child and His mother and go into the land of Israel, for they are dead that sought the life of the child” (Matt. 2:20). Joseph responds immediately to the command. Both he and Mary carry out with childlike simplicity and complete confidence whatever God commands them to do.
“Go into the land of Israel.” Christ’s reason for coming into the world was to free us from our exile and to lead us back to the promised land of eternity. “Take the child and His mother,” the liturgy urges us in the Communion prayer. United with Christ and supported by His strength, we shall find our way back to the blessed land of eternity, for “except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life” (John 6:54 f.).
The Eucharist is the sacrament of life and grace. The other sacraments also produce life in us, but only because of their connection with this sacrament, the most sublime of the lifegiving channels of grace. “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you” (John 6:54). Only if we have the strength provided by this marvelous food shall we be able to survive the hardships of the long and arduous journey to eternity. We must remember that we are commanded by the Church to “take the child,” to receive Him frequently in the Eucharist.
- “Take the child and His mother and go into the land of Israel.” If we wish to return to the blessed land of our Fathers, there is no other way except in company with the child. And we must take not only the child, but also His mother. Mary, the mother of Christ according to the flesh, is our mother according to the spirit. It was she who brought forth the body and the blood which we receive in Holy Communion.
She was the divinely appointed helper of the new Adam, and by her humility and resignation to the will of God, she cooperated in the salvation of the human race. By her intercession she obtains for us every grace that we receive from God. Whoever desires grace from God may turn to Mary with confidence. God gladly gives His grace through her. To seek graces that do not come to us through her hands would be a fruitless task. “So mighty art thou, O Lady, and so great, that he who desires grace and comes not to thee for aid, would have his desires seeking to fly without wings.” [1. Dante, Paradiso, canto 33, lines 13 ff.]
“For they that sought the life of the child are dead.” “I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die” (John 6:48 f.). Holy Communion is the bread that gives us the strength to resist temptation and to overcome it. It is the only bread that can fortify us in the struggle against the enemies of a life of grace and virtue. It is this very bread that serves as an “antidote to the poison of original sin” (Council of Trent). This bread, used daily, will heal us of our weaknesses, and temper the violence of our passions. It could hardly be otherwise since by receiving the body and blood of the Lord, we become one with Him (Cyril of Jerusalem). The Lord Himself flows into our hearts at the time of Holy Communion, like liquid fire to draw us to Him. Thus, daily more and more, spiritual blindness, worldliness, self-will and pride are stamped out of our hearts. Thus, the path is cleared so that we may return freely into the land of Israel.
“Take the Child and His mother.” Christ in the Eucharist and His Blessed Mother are the focal point of all liturgical Christian devotion, and they must be the focal point also of the devotion of all true Christians. Essential first, of course are the offering of Holy Mass and the reception of Holy Communion. In close connection with this is devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, our mother, the mediatrix of all graces.
Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure, that we may deserve to abound in good works, in the name of Thy beloved Son, who with Thee liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.
28 : THE HOLY INNOCENTS (c. A.U.C. 750)
HEROD, called “the Great”, who governed Jewry under the Romans at the time of the birth of our Lord, was an Idumaean; not a Jew of the house of David or of Aaron, but the descendant of people forcibly judaized by John Hyrcanus and himself exalted by the favour of imperial Rome. From the moment, therefore, that he heard that there was One “born king of the Jews”, and that already wise men came from the East to worship Him, Herod was troubled for his throne. He called together the chief priests and scribes, and asked them where it was that the expected Messias should be born; and they told him, “In Bethlehem of Juda”. Then he sent for the Magi secretly, and cross-examined them about their movements and their expectations, and finally dismissed them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and find out all about this child. And when you know where he is, come and tell me—that I too may go and worship him.” But the Magi were warned in their sleep not to return to Herod, and they went back to their own country by another way. And God by an angel warned Joseph to take his wife Mary and her child Jesus and fly into Egypt, “for it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him”.
“Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the wise men, was exceeding angry. And sending killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning; Rachel bewailing her children and would not be comforted, because they were not” (Matt. ii).
Josephus says of Herod that “he was a man of great barbarity towards everybody”, and narrates a number of his crimes, crimes so shocking that the slaughter of a few young Jewish babies becomes insignificant among them, and Josephus does not mention it. The number of Herod’s victims is popularly supposed to have been great: the Byzantine liturgy speaks of 14,000, the Syrian menologies 64,000, and by an accommodation of Apocalypse xiv 1-5, it has even been put at 144,000. Of the lowest of these figures Alban Butler justly remarks that it “exceeds all bounds, nor is it confirmed by any authority of weight”. Bethlehem was a small place and, even including the environs, could not at one time have had more than twenty-five boy-babies under two, at the very most; some inquirers would put the number so low as about half a dozen. There is an oft-repeated story told by Macrobius, a heathen writer of the fifth century, that the Emperor Augustus, when he heard that among the children under two which Herod had commanded to be slain his own son had been massacred, said, “It is better to be Herod’s hog (hus) than his son (huios) “, alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing, swine. But in fact the son referred to was an adult, Antipater, put to death by order of his dying father.
The feast of these Holy Innocents (who in the East are called simply the Holy Children) has been kept in the Church since the fifth century, and she venerates them as martyrs, who died not only for Christ but actually instead of Christ: “flores martyrum“, she calls them; buds, as St Augustine says, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves. Nevertheless they are not treated liturgically as ordinary martyrs. The colour of the vestments at Mass /626/ is purple and the Gloria and Alleluia are not sung; but on the octave-day, and when the feast falls on a Sunday, red vestments are worn and Gloria and Alleluia sung as usual. This feast was formerly called Childermas in England, and St Bede wrote a long hymn in honour of the Innocents. They are naturally specially venerated at Bethlehem; their feast is there a holiday of obligation, and every afternoon of the year the Franciscan friars and children of the choir visit their altar under the basilica of the Nativity and sing the hymn from Lauds of the feast, “Salvete, flores martyrum“.
(Butler’s Lives of the Saints)
THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY
By MOST REV. TIHAMER TOTH
THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY LIFE
Today thousands of catchwords about marriage reform are heard on every side. Yet we may be very sure this reform can take only one road; the road that leads marriage back to entirely Christian principles. The indissolubility and purity of marriage must be restored, for with these the future of mankind stands or falls.
- Just as it is impossible for the state to dispense with the family, so it is impossible for it to create by its own efforts the moral foundations that ensure the strength of family life.
1) No nation in the world desires to see the marriages of her citizens dissolved. Everybody is aware of the disastrous’ effects of widespread divorce, and every nation seeks to increase respect for the family among its people. But we see that without the aid of religion the most worthy endeavors fare as did the effort of Emperor Augustus.
In the time of Augustus divorce was common among the Romans. So he laid down two strict laws: the Lex Juliaabout /200/ A.D. 4, and the Lex Papia Poppaea about A.D. 9. The Lex Julia provided rewards for those who married and raised a large family, while the Lex Papia Poppaea imposed penalties upon those who did not marry or who married but had no children.
And what was the result? There was no result. All this did not help at all. And history tells us why. The same Augustus who enacted these strict laws lived in adultery, a glaring scandal to his subjects. This is a perfect example of the inadequacy of civil enactments and regulations.
Now we understand what a blessing Christ bestowed upon man when he exalted marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. The Christian family ideal was one of the first fruits of the redemption, and it was by this ideal that the Church was able to lay the foundations of our modern civilization on the ruins of the ancient world.
- True, the principle of indissolubility, like every other law, may entail hardships and claim its victims. But interests of the community, of mankind, stand above the interests and well-being of the individual. For the sake of one individual we cannot alter the fundamental principles that serve the interests and welfare of the whole race. Or if we alter them, as many countries have done in allowing divorce, an abyss opens before us from which there is no return.
Have we not seen the pretexts for divorce increasing day by day? In former times it was only in the most difficult and exceptional cases that people thought of divorce. Slowly but surely the reasons and excuses for divorce have increased, until today any reason is good enough, and some people want to abolish the very institution of marriage itself. But we should not be surprised at this. After the cloth begins to rip, it is too late to save the garment.
2) Yet we know that between the four walls we call the home, the future of the nation, of all mankind, is born and /201/ develops. We know that the most excellent social program remains nothing but empty words if its first care is not the care of the family. We know that the most urgent need of our country, of every country, today is a stronger, happier family life. The need for this is greater than for art or science or agriculture or industry, because all these latter things are built on the family. On the other hand, the disruption of the family always means the loss of irretrievable moral values, and the nation in which the family falls apart has forfeited its historical role.
- When we realize that there is hardly any modern state whose legislation has not bowed in some respect to this movement undermining matrimonial ideals, our feeling of gratitude to the Catholic Church is so much the greater because of her firm stand beside the Christian ideal of marriage unadulterated by divorce.
1) Yet how often it has been prophesied that this will be her undoing! Her undoing, if she continues to judge this question with her old inflexibility, and if she is not more considerate and yielding toward modern movements. No. The Catholic Church cannot be yielding where compliance would mean destruction. It is her sacred duty to keep family life on the ideal level where the Creator placed it in the beginning and where, after thousands of years of error, our Lord not only replaced it, but also enrolled it among His sacraments.
We do not know what fate awaits the Western world, and with it the Church of Christ. But one thing is certain: its fate depends upon man’s successful rebuilding of a Christian civilization, for the old one exists no longer, it has collapsed. And it is also certain that this new Christian civilization cannot be built until man has succeeded in raising its foundation, Christian family life, to its former strength and purity.
On the rebuilding of Christ’s mystical body, not only the /202/ priesthood must labor, but also the secular followers of Christ. Let there be “no schism in the body,” writes St. Paul, “but the members. . . be mutually careful one for another” (I Cor. 12: 25). If marriage becomes Christian, family life becomes Christian, parents and children become Christian. Only then will the springtime of new life come to the Church.
2) Today the world around us totters like a drunken giant. Wickedness and sedition are flooding the face of the earth with a deluge of blood, as once it was covered by a deluge of water in Noe’s time. But even if this is so, and even if all the greatness and beauty that the human intellect has produced were to be destroyed, even then amid the thundering of the foaming waves the second Noe’s ark, the Catholic Church, will ride the storm unharmed and will carry with her the second family of Noe, the Catholic ideal of family life that will once again rescue sinking humanity. Conferences will not save the world, nor machines nor unions nor agreements, but fathers and mothers. Fathers with stiff backbones, and mothers with warm hearts; fathers with industrious hands, and mothers with careful fingers. Fathers and mothers who are ideals of Catholic married life.
Mankind today sees that family life is on a downward grade and that the danger of destruction threatens every cultural value. Biologists, politicians, and teachers nervously seek a remedy. Thousands of plans are offered and rejected. There is one thing that can lead us out of the present crisis of social life, and that is a return to the forsaken natural and divine laws; a return to ideal family life.
My dear brethren. The stairways of the Neues Museum in Berlin are adorned with Kaulbach’s immense historical paintings. One of these big pictures portrays the destruction of Jerusalem. We see before us, depicted with startling realism, /203/ the ruin of the Jews, once God’s chosen people. The Temple stands in flames, and the angels, who have appeared to execute God’s punishment, hold swords in their hands. On the right, at the head of his legions, is seen Titus, the triumphant Roman commander. On the left in the background, the one-time leaders of the Hebrews draw back in helpless fury. In the center of the picture, right in the front, stands the Jewish high priest with his dagger poised above his breast, while his wife and children implore him to kill them first. Dread and despair, the breath of hopeless ruin, is wafted toward us from the whole picture.
And yet, not so. The other half of the painting has a different story to tell. In it we see a Christian family fleeing from the city on two mules. On one mule sits the mother with two little ones in her arms. Behind her sits another child. The other mule carries children, too. In front walks a youth with eyes lifted to heaven. He is singing a psalm. Behind follows the father, also singing. Above this group angels are hovering, the angels of faith and hope and love; but they have no fiery swords in their hands. They carry the radiant chalice of the Eucharist, and are encouraging the fleeing family.
And that the moral may be still more complete, we are struck by yet another feature. From the Hebrew multitude sinking under the weight of the divine judgment, three scantily clad children cast themselves with pleading gestures in front of the fleeing Christian family. “Take us with you, do not let us be left to certain destruction.” And from the back of the mule one of the children with a smile lovingly extends his hand toward them.
That child’s charming gesture expresses all our latent trust. Who cannot feel what this picture means to us? Who does not see that above the family life that defies God’s laws the avenging wrath of divine judgment flashes? Who does not /204/ hear the once strong walls of the home falling in ruins, burying beneath them all the values, virtues, happiness, and culture that man has produced?
If Catholic families wish to escape this divine judgment, they must abandon the contamination of moral frivolity and return to the ideal of family life. They must become examples of righteous living for a world gone astray. Our greatest need today is for more Christian families. If there is still any escape for this tottering world, it is through the reconstruction of its social order by Christian families. By families that emanate satisfaction, harmony, and happiness. By families whose strength will renew and purify the humanity that now lies in ruins.
Lord God, protect, strengthen, and bless our Christian families. Amen. /205/
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