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These Infants Died As Witnesses to Jesus
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Were the Holy Innocents Truly Martyrs?
Focus on the Catechism or the Bible?
Persuading Someone to Quit Driving
What Do the Poor Souls Know About Us?

Q: On December 28 we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. According to Matthew 2:16-18, King Herod the Great ordered the murder of boys under the age of two in Bethlehem.

Because they weren’t Christians, how can they be considered martyrs? They were too young to have any religious beliefs of their own or to know why they were being killed. It seems to me that they died for political reasons, not religious reasons.

A: By the year 200, St. Irenaeus of Lyon had recognized the Holy Innocents as martyrs, notes Francis X. Weiser’s Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs. Their feast is found in the liturgical calendar used in North Africa at the end of the fourth century.

Approximately 150 years later, St. Quodvultdeus wrote these words that are used for the Office of Readings on December 28: “The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child [Jesus] makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.

“But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.

“How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.”

The story of the Holy Innocents, which intersects the story of Jesus, is a reminder that ultimately God’s grace saves people, whether they are infants, teens or adults. Accepting and cooperating with that grace is the norm, but denying the title “martyr” to the Holy Innocents might be seen as the ultimate age discrimination.

Herod the Great had one of his wives, his mother-in-law, three sons (Antipater, Alexander and Aristobulus) and one of his uncles murdered.

You say the Holy Innocents were killed for political and not religious reasons. Motivations are not always so simple. Was Jesus executed for political reasons only? Perhaps so from Pilate’s viewpoint, but not according to those Jewish leaders who sought Jesus’ death.

Did Sts. Stephen and Thomas Becket, whose feasts occur on December 26 and 29 respectively, die simply for political reasons? Were the thousands of Catholic catechists and lay Church leaders killed by death squads in Central and South America in the last 50 years murdered for “political, not religious” reasons?

The Good News of Jesus Christ will always upset some people. Martyrs are killed almost always because they bring faith to witness against their culture. That has political implications, but their witness is most deeply religious.

Focus on the Catechism or the Bible?

Q: Can reading and studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church take the place of reading Holy Scripture? I find the Bible very confusing because it does not seem to be in any logical order.

A: Perhaps the Catechism itself answers your question best. In article 103 we read that “the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body [citing #21 of Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation].”

There are many good resources from various publishers to help people understand the Bible. I recommend a recent St. Anthony Messenger Press book by Father Timothy Schehr, The Bible Made Easy: A Book-by-Book Introduction. The Bible is a single book, and yet it is also a library of books. Many other resources for Scripture study are available at this web site.

It is important to appreciate the different styles of writing. The Bible’s books were finalized over the course of almost eight centuries.

In article 104 the Catechism teaches: “In Sacred Scripture, the Church constantly finds her nourishment and her strength, for she welcomes it not as a human word, ‘but as what it really is, the word of God’ [citing 1 Thessalonians 2:13]. ‘In the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them’ [again citing #21 Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation].”

The Catechism is well worth studying, but not at the expense of God’s self-revelation given in Scripture.

Q: In the August issue you responded to an ophthalmologist who has patients no longer meeting the state’s vision requirements but whose driver’s licenses are still valid. That issue is very pertinent for me. I have several friends who are losing their sight due to illness (diabetes, macular degeneration, etc.).

As adults they know their limitations, but it is very difficult for them to give up driving, especially if they are single or widowed. I have warned them of the dangers of not being able to see things clearly. At times they cannot distinguish or read things until they are right next to them.

It would be a major inconvenience for them, but alternative means of transportation are available (driver, taxi services, friends and family) and would make the roads safer for everyone.

I realize that other drivers with good eyesight can also be a danger to everyone through their abusive driving habits.

As our population ages and health issues increase, this will pose an even bigger problem in time. What do you suggest family or friends do to prevent possible vehicular deaths when their loved ones are too stubborn to listen to reason? Is it our duty to notify the motor vehicle administration about the danger that they pose?

A: Perhaps the place to begin is by asking, “How much would it hurt me if one of my friends killed someone because he or she could not see adequately?” Your being correct about their visual limitations would be small consolation in that situation.

Virtually everyone who has received a new driver’s license has heard, “Driving is a privilege, not a right.” Visually impaired adults sometimes limit themselves, choosing not to drive after dark or on certain roads—and that may be enough to keep everyone safe. But people can also refuse to face facts, endangering themselves and others.

Those who know how serious the danger is have the moral obligation to try to remove it. Talk to other people who have direct knowledge of this driver’s vision problems.

Keeping quiet to avoid causing trouble is irresponsible in the circumstances that you describe. It seems to me that speaking up about this is not creating trouble but rather naming the danger that already exists, though it has not yet claimed any victims.

Your willingness to speak up should be matched by a willingness to help this person adjust to a life without driving. You cannot do everything, but you can be part of a network of people who enable this person to continue the activities that he or she enjoys.

Some of your vision-impaired friends might quit driving more easily than you expect. I know two religious superiors who found that to be the case when they broke the bad news that someone should no longer be driving.

You cannot force these people to discontinue driving and may not succeed in enlisting others to convince them to do so. If you do what you reasonably can, you at least have the benefit of a clear conscience on that matter.

All of us, regardless of how good our eyesight may be, need to make sure that our driving habits are not endangering ourselves or other people.

Q: Are the Poor Souls in purgatory able to view the comings and goings of their loved ones here on earth? Can those who are already in heaven do the same? I think they can, but some people have said they cannot.

A: I side with you on this issue, though this has not been the subject of any official Church teaching of which I am aware. The author of the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews speaks of a “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us (see 12:1), encouraging us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” I cannot imagine that these witnesses are unaware of our temptations and the times when we resist them.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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