The Holy Innocents
“But Herod sending, killed all the male children, from two years old and under.”–Matt. 2.
Whenever we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents, our hearts are filled with compassion, but, at the same time, also with joy and consolation. We have compassion for these innocent children, who shed their blood to satisfy the cruelty, vanity, and pride of a tyrant;–but taking into consideration that they had not the remotest idea of the death they were to suffer, that, without any struggle, or troubles of conscience, they were torn from the arms of their mothers, to hasten to the arms of God, where a particular degree of glory awaited them,–in consideration of this, we feel comforted and happy, and can not but congratulate these little innocents, the first of the martyrs for Christ’s sake.
The remembrance of the Holy Innocents, has a most practical influence on the lives of parents especially, admonishing them to strive earnestly, that, even if their children have not the happiness of sealing the truth of their faith with the effusion of their blood, they may, nevertheless, give testimony of it by the innocence of their lives. Parents, I will point out to you, today, what you, on your part, are obliged to do, in order that your children may preserve their innocence. O Mary, thou model for all dutiful mothers, obtain for those parents here present the grace, to know and fulfill their duties in this respect! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, to the greater honor of God!
What renders the sight of newly-baptized children attractive, is their innocence. Happy child! every Christian will exclaim, when he beholds an infant just baptized. You are now entirely pure, free from every stain of sin, and an object of God’s divine pleasure. It is especially the mother of the child who will feel this; and if she is a pious mother, she will express the wish: Oh, if you would but always remain so!
But, alas! how seldom is this wish realized! Alas! many, yes, I may say, most children lose their innocence at a very early age, and become victims of sin. To them the words of St. Augustine may be applied: “So small a boy–so small a girl,–and already so great a sinner!” Though it may happen that, notwithstanding the most careful training, some children go astray, still this does not relieve parents from the obligation of taking such care and precautions as aid their children to pass their youth in innocence. I will point out to you particularly in what this care consists.
In the first place, a mother, as soon as she is aware that a child is given her, should often raise her heart devoutly to God during the day, and pray for the welfare of her child. We read in the lives of the saints, that, at times, God, in a most wonderful manner, would make known to mothers the particular degree of sanctity to which their children were chosen. Think of St. Anna, the mother of Samuel; of St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist; of the mother of St. Dominic; the mother of St. Stanislaus! When the child is born, and grows up, the mother’s care should be directed to accustoming it to raise its heart to God, as soon as it is able; and this can be done at a much earlier age than many a mother imagines.
Parents should faithfully discharge their religious duties; say their morning and night prayers with their children, who will thus, at an early age, acquire a love for prayer. If children are not induced in their early youth, by the good example and exhortations of parents, to say their prayers; if they are not instructed to begin and end the day with devotional exercises, they will most assuredly be exposed to the danger of neglecting prayer altogether, and to commit numerous sins in consequence. As soon as the child advances in years, it should be thoroughly instructed in matters of faith, and its heart must be disposed to think, above all things, of the one important-affair of salvation. It should be reminded that all the things of this world are but vanity in themselves, if they are not employed as means to serve God.
Parents, teach your children to say, when allured by the world, to say with St. Aloysius: What will this avail me for eternity? There is no doubt that the inordinate desire to have, to possess, and to enjoy the goods and pleasures of this world, is the cause of the carelessness of youth in matters of their salvation; to this it is owing that they so freely indulge their sensual desires,–sin,–and go to ruin. Parents are entirely too anxious to increase their temporal possessions. No wonder, then, that they do not instill into the hearts of their children a disdain for the world, and do not sufficiently cultivate and nourish in them a desire for heavenly things. The spirit of the world takes possession of their children’s hearts, and but too often draws them into the abyss of sin. And as parents should be thus intent upon directing the children’s attention to approaching eternity, in like manner should they strive to impress them with a horror for sin.
Would to God that all mothers would imitate the example of St. Blanche, who was wont thus to address her son Louis: “Dear child, I would a thousand times rather behold you dead at my feet, than in a state of mortal sin!” But to guard their children from mortal sin, mothers should teach them to walk in the presence of God, to honor the Blessed Virgin and their guardian angels; and, moreover, take precautions that other children do not lead theirs into temptation and cause them to lose their innocence. Therefore, even as regards sisters and brothers, parents should use the utmost care that they may not prove an occasion of sin to each other.
And still more destructive is the bad example of parents. If parents desire that their children retain purity of heart, then their own life must be a mirror and a model, so that even after their death the remembrance of the virtuous example of the father and the mother, will cause their children to tremble at the very thought of committing a sin. Therefore, parents should make it a point to be faithful in reciting their morning and night prayers, to attend divine service regularly, to frequently receive Holy Communion, thereby setting a good example, which the children will feel encouraged to imitate.
As long as children love to pray, to attend divine service, and to receive Holy Communion frequently, parents may hope for the best. But woe to those parents who begin and end the day without prayer, who do not fulfill their religious duties, and neglect to receive the Holy Sacraments! Children of such parents are in great danger of losing their innocence; they are scandalized by the conduct of their own parents. It is especially on Sundays and holy days that they should give their children this example of piety. When children, following the example of their parents, neglect the service of the Lord, and take delight in worldly enjoyments, all hope for the preservation of innocence may be abandoned.
A most dangerous rock, arising but too often in the turbulent stream of life, is the perusing of worldly books and trashy novels, and the society of worldlyminded people. If parents really wish that their children may serve God with a pure conscience, they must take care that their children never remain alone with persons of the opposite sex, nor frequent nightly amusements, and thus voluntarily remain in the proximate occasion of sin. If this precaution is not taken, children will lose their innocence, and the responsibility will rest heavily on the conscience of the parents.
Parents, you who are listening to me, examine yourselves carefully in regard to each of these points, and make a firm resolution to act in the future as I have advised you. If you do so your children will not only be a source of joy to you in this life, but they will also be eternally grateful to you in heaven!–Amen!
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.