Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.
Herod killed in order to protect his position. Fearing that the newborn King would supplant him, he ordered the death of anyone of the right gender and close to the age that the magi had told him.
In declaring them martyrs; in setting up a feast day to honour them, the Church is reminding us that God’s ways are not our ways. These little children didn’t do anything to deserve death. They didn’t live long enough to do anything, good or bad. Yet they are given the title ‘martyr’ along with St Stephen, whose feast day was yesterday, and who was the first to die witnessing to faith in Jesus, and St Thomas Becket, whose feast day is tomorrow. These two martyrs were movers in the currents of history, changing hearts and lives, offending the powerful and inspiring the devout.
The Holy Innocents, by contrast, were “unimportant” and “unnecessary” pawns. They stand for all those, throughout human history
…who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they “don’t really matter”; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette… or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God’s eyes (that is, according to the true value of things), no-one is unimportant, no-one is unnecessary, no-one “doesn’t really matter.” However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.
On a more personal level, the honour given to the Holy Innocents reminds us that if we suffer or even die for God’s sake, it has value even if we have little or no say in it ourselves. Honouring them effectively honours also the martyrdom of the people these children could have become, and their children’s children as well. (Universalis.com)
Today’s world is an unsafe place for millions of children. There are many Herods who will kill anyone who threatens their position, and in many places around the globe, children are orphaned, or killed themselves, in wars of one kind or another. The massacre of the innocents also plays out in the abortion industry.
And today, as in Herod’s day, those who order the deaths rely on the complicity of others: the soldiers who carry out the orders, the advisers who agree the deaths are necessary, the neighbours who turn to look the other way – all who put their own positions, their own comfort and lifestyle, ahead of the needs of these little innocents.