Right in the midst of all our Christmas rejoicing, the Church almost seems in a hurry to remind us that we’re not quite out of the “valley of tears” yet. Just as our mourning is always tempered with rejoicing— after all, Christ is already victorious—so also today our rejoicing is tinged with sadness. The Church remembers the children killed by Herod as he sought to destroy the baby Jesus.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents is always a little bit of a hard day for me, even though it is a comfort to know that our Church recognizes and celebrates the lives of these youngest martyrs, and that it cares about the suffering of their families. While our own family has never lost a child, on this day I find myself mourning with several families we know who have suffered miscarriages or the deaths of young children. This feast also reminds me of all the children who have been aborted, those who have been killed in war, those who have died of malnutrition or lack of clean water and medicine, and those who, like Jesus himself, have suffered the plight of the refugee. Of course, I also mourn for those who, even in our own communities, are hungry or homeless or abused or bullied or lonely. It is heartbreaking to consider the great suffering so many children face every day.
And as I think about it, I’m mystified by all of this. I press into the mystery and believe heaven is a sufficient recompense for whatever we might suffer here on earth—but in my humanity, that doesn’t really make me feel better about the suffering of children. And while I know I could be doing more than I am to alleviate that suffering, I also know that nothing I can do could ever be enough. It is a test of my faith to let go of my own desires and to place all these little ones in God’s hands, just as I do my own children every time I send them out the door.
This is a day I light an extra candle and say an extra prayer for the suffering of children and families. It’s a day I want families, and especially mothers who have suffered these losses, to know they aren’t alone, but that all our hearts ache with them. That while there may be comfort in the thought of a little one racing ahead of us into Jesus’s arms, that doesn’t take away the very human hurt of missing a child. It’s a day that causes me to hug my own children a little tighter, and to hold on to them a little longer. Even though we’ve just finished Advent, this is a day I find myself asking again, “Please, Jesus, may your kingdom come! The sooner, the better!” I am ready for that time when he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain (Rev 12:4).