The Slaughter of the Holy Innocents and the Value of Children
by the Rt. Rev. WM. Stang, D.D. Bishop of Fall River, 1905
Every year, as the Church commemorates the slaughter of the Holy Innocents on December 28, she repeats, with the Evangelist St. Matthew, the prophecy of Jeremias: “A voice in Rama is heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” In the constant belief of the Church, these Holy Innocents were, at the threshold of life, plunged into a sea of suffering for the sake of the Blessed Redeemer, to be His martyrs and to receive, in one moment, their eternal palms and crowns. “We hear loud voices and shrill expostulations, as of women in misery talking all at once, like a jargon in the summer woods, when the birds have risen against the hawk, and then the fearful cry of excited lamentation, with the piteous moaning of the infant victims mingled with the inconsolable wailing of their brave, powerless mothers ” (Fr. Faber).
There is a massacre of innocents going on, and though we do not hear the cries of mothers or the moans of little children, yet the slaughter is more cruel than that of King Herod recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, for it deprives of physical and spiritual life; it sends children unbaptized into eternity, and brings about race suicide. And not only is thie destruction of the child’s life within the nine months before its birth a fearful deed forbidden by the fifth commandment of God, but any wilful act or desire to prevent human life, in any shape or form, is a crime against Nature which the God of Nature will visit with dreadful punishments. The small family, brought about by the effective wish of husband and wife, is an immoral condition which ruins souls and bodies. Those who set limits to divine Providence by preventing the offspring, violate the holy laws of God, defeat the end for which marriage was instituted, brutalize the sacred relations between man and wife, and criminally contribute to the physical, mental and moral degeneracy of the nation.
The small family is the result of religious decay in the land. Wherever religion flourishes, homes are thronged with happy children; where religion has disappeared, horses, dogs and cats are given the care that belongs to human beings. Want of confidence in a God who provides with fatherly solicitude for all His children makes a man dread a large family. A low view of the end of human life, a frantic, suicidal craze for sensual pleasure and enjoyment, are further causes of the ugly evil.
The woman who avoids the trials of childbirth is degrading herself. Her highest glory is to bear children, and thus to be the co-worker of God, who entrusts to her maternal care what He has best in all creation, a human being. Motherhood is woman’s highest crown. Mary, the highest type of womanhood, appears loveliest and most charming when holding the divine Infant in her arms. We learn from the Old Testament how highly motherhood was prized among Hebrew women, while barrenness was considered as a great affliction. Every Christian woman appreciates the dignity of motherhood and is willing to risk her health and life itself in order to bring children into the world. She scorns the unnatural and unscientific advice of the doctor to refrain from the noble duties of maternity; she knows her life to rest securely in God’s hands. She realizes that God alone can give and take life, that He sends the child, and father and mother welcome it as a heavenly guest.
Poverty and sickness are no excuses to limit the offspring; God provides for every living creature. He never sends more mouths than he can feed. Our poor, religious people seldom complain of a large family; they have more confidence in God than the wealthy. It often happens that they adopt orphans, saying with Christian faith: “Where there is food for nine there is food for ten.” I have lately read of a policeman on night duty who discovered a large brown paper parcel on the doorsteps of a house he passed. He opened the parcel and found a newborn child in it. He brought it home to his first-born son, just one day old, saying to his happy wife: ” Maggie, God sends this child, and we must keep and rear it with our own.” How noble such people appear compared with the refined and well-dressed lady who prefers a poodle dog to a gladsome child.
Godless or world-wise people will answer me with this objection: It is better to have few children and bring them up well than to have a large number and neglect them. What do you mean by bringing them up well? Is he brought up well who is reared in luxury and comfort? You know such things to be injurious to the moral character of the child. As delicacies of food hurt the stomach, so sensual gratifications prevent moral and mental development. The best food for the child is the common, substantial food of the poor; its best garb is of coarse material. Over-indulgence of sensual appetites produces physical and moral weakness: real character is made of stem and durable stuff. The worst college boys are generally those who are best provided with pocket-money. Real manhood is developed in the school of hardship, privation and adversity.
Moreover, it is better for a boy or a girl to be reared among a number of brothers and sisters than to be alone, the sole idol of its parents, pampered by mamma and petted by papa–a little good-for-nothing, peevish, selfish imp, conceited beyond description, a nuisance to others and an eyesore to well-bred children. Where will such an only child find the chance of cultivating habits of unselfishness and consideration for others? Certainly not in playing with toys and eating candy. May it never become true of Catholic women what James C. Ferald has said:
“An education of destruction is sweeping wide and deep below the surface of our social life. Fine houses, fine furniture, fine raiment, are purchased by the slaughter of the Innocents, and the fact is a matter not of shame, but of boasting. The advanced American stalks about, proud as a Modoc chief in feathers and war-paint, but the scalps at her girdle are those of her own unborn offspring. When whole communities regard a houseful of children, however winsome and happy, as matter for gibe and censure, and when reduction of family becomes the great domestic ambition, it ought to be said and known that the desire and the fact are among the surest indications of the decline of races and of nations.”