The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Small wonder

The more they were oppressed,
the more they multiplied and spread.
Exodus 1:12

It is odd, yet also fitting, that the joyful celebration of Christ’s birth is followed so closely by the feast days of the first martyr Stephen and the Holy Innocents. These gave their lives (the little ones unknowingly) so that Christ’s Gospel might live and be proclaimed throughout the world, just as Jesus himself would do willingly 33 years later. St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents, each in their own way, perpetuate Christ’s eternal sacrifice, submitting to their persecutors so that Christ’s light may live and grow in the hearts of all people.

As the French poet Charles Peguy recalls in the case of the Holy Innocents, “They are the eternal imitations.”

It may be rather easy to believe that a small child is closer to Christ than most of us who are more acquainted with the scars of sin and struggle. In the witness provided by young children, we are often reminded that “unless you have the heart of a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (cf. Matthew 18:3; Mark 10:15).

However, more than sweet and simple innocence is involved here. Becoming like a little child means turning our hearts to be completely dependent on, trustful of, and obedient to God. It means proclaiming the message of Christ’s salvation in word and deed through self-sacrifice—whether martyrdom comes with swift and deadly blows or with the tiny, annoying pinpricks of daily life.

It also means that Christ speaks to us daily in the smallest of details, the most unlikely (even painful) of events, and in the people many of us dismiss as not worth the effort or notice. Just as with the manger at Christmas, the empty tomb at Easter, or along the road to Emmaus after the Resurrection (cf. Luke 24:13-35), Christ lies hidden yet always present at the heart of our lives, waiting to be discovered with childlike wonder.

Most of all, it means that the power of sin and death which seeks to defeat Life itself absolutely cannot win. The destruction which evil inflicts before our eyes is ultimately its own undoing, all through the power hidden in childlike dependence on, trust in, and obedience to God. Pharoah ordered that all newborn Hebrew boys be thrown into the river. Yet Moses—plucked from that same river—survived to lead his people out of slavery. Hundreds of years later, Herod ordered the massacre of all newborn boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Yet the infant Jesus—escaping in the arms of Mary and Joseph—survived and emerged from Egypt to save all people from slavery to sin by handing over his own life.

The pattern has been set, and the event continues in each one of our lives to this very day. If we seek Christ, he will be found. If we ask, we will receive. And if we pick up our cross daily, follow him, and lose our lives for his sake, we will gain Life itself.

Througout it all, the Holy Innocents dance with delight around the Christ child. In harmony, the "eternal imitations" rejoice in the hope stored up for all in heaven.

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