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
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”
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
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
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
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.
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