Faithful Departed: Feast of Holy Innocents

This is not the article that I intended to write. I was putting the finishing touches on the first draft while watching my 3-year-old niece emphatically demonstrate her defiant hold on “terrible-twoness” when my cell phone alerted me to the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Turning on the TV, my shock moved from horror to sadness to fear to anger and round again within minutes. I instinctively picked up my niece and hugged her despite her loud protests. She was not just being my niece whose moodiness I’d gladly prefer to nothing at all; she was also a representation of every child who perished in that massacre and all our babies who have fallen innocently out of our hands. So, I deleted my milquetoast first draft, and I hugged her… for dear life.

On this Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28), we recall the order King Herod gave to kill all young boys in Bethlehem age 2 and under in order to thwart any plans for his undoing by the foretold Newborn King. Facets of the insidious malevolence that motivated Herod’s massacre more than 2,000 years ago are, apparently, still alive and well today.

In 2012, this malevolence seemed to show its many faces in the demise of our Holy Innocents. Suspicion caused the end of Trayvon Martin’s life. 17. Delusive mania motivated the end of the lives of Alexander Boik, 18, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, and Ashley Moser, 3 months, in a Colorado movie theater screening the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Malevolence took the form of compounded stress to end the lives and desecrate the bodies of four young girls — Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, aged 2-6, and five young boys — Esmatullah, Faizullah, Essa, Aktah, and Khudaydad, aged 8-16, in their village homes in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. It took the form of anger to end the lives of Daniel Parmertor, 16, Russell King, 17, and Demetrius Hewlin, 16, while at school in Chardon, Ohio. And, as I write, we are still determining what form it took to end the lives of the dear ones who died in Newtown: Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine Hsu, 6, Catherine Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, and Avielle Richman, 6.

These are the innocents known to most of us. Be assured, however, that there are thousands (yes, thousands) whose names are not printed or televised outside of local circles. One example: Ileana Cuevas, 15, the innocent victim of crossfire in Detroit whose story I only know because a priest friend of mine was called to console the family and celebrate this marvelous young girl’s funeral.

I am (as, I hope, we are all) personally affected by the loss of our young brothers and sisters; their innocent lives senselessly stolen from them. They held hope for us while they were here. There could have been a doctor among them who would discover the cure for cancer, or a politician who’d fearlessly work for justice, peace and liberty for all people. One of them may have held the answer to eradicating hunger or, even better, eradicating this infectious malevolence. Yet, my hope in them is not in vain. For in their short lives, they remind me that I still have the work of restorative love to do, as do we all.

I am consoled that our Holy Innocents now rest in the arm of God, into which they fell when they were stricken down. I am also motivated to work harder on their behalf to foster a brand of peace and human benevolence in my family, religious order, workplace, parish, community, city, country and world that prevails over the work of such malevolence. May I do my young brothers and sisters so proudly that they look down upon me and smile. And, may I NEVER have to write another article like this again in my life.

Fr. Steven Bell, CSP, is a Paulist priest who leads parish missions, retreats, revivals and workshops, all of which consider the importance of reconciliation and healing. Fr. Steve previously served as associate director of Newman Hall / Holy Spirit Parish at the University of California at Berkeley and associate director of St. Thomas More Newman Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. Prior to this assignment, Fr. Steve was the associate director of Busted Halo. Ordained in 2008, Fr. Steve served at St. Austin’s in Austin, Texas, where he led lessons on faith for school-aged kids at summer camp and motivational talks for African-American professionals. He also led retreats and missions for young adults and other groups in the church.