Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Notes on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Today the Church remembers the Holy Innocents, the male infants of Bethlehem and environs who were killed at the command of King Herod. Though tradition put the number of children slaughtered by Herod in the thousands, the comparatively small population of 1st century Bethlehem has led modern scholars to suggest that there may have been as few as twenty. This conclusion in no way diminishes the poignancy of the Holy Innocents' martyrdom. Unlike later martyrs, the Holy Innocents were killed not because they professed faith in Jesus Christ but essentially because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nowadays we're sadly accustomed to hearing similar reports of innocent people killed in acts of random violence, often in their own homes or in the streets of their neighborhoods. The Feast of the Holy Innocents offers us an opportunity to remember these modern victims of violence and to pray for a safer society.

On a very different note, the Feast of the Holy Innocents relates to two distinct but similar customs of religious life. I'm told that in many religious houses there was once a tradition that on this feast the youngest member of the community would take the place of the superior and assume leadership for one day. Though I can't speak for other communities, this custom certainly isn't practiced at Loyola House (even if it was, the novices' being away on home visits on December 28th would seem to make the matter moot). However, we do have some other customs with ties to the Holy Innocents. From what I've heard, the title of "Holy Innocent" is traditionally conferred upon the youngest novice in each class. Though Jonathan is the youngest novice in this year's entering class at Loyola House, the Holy Innocent moniker eluded him. By entirely mysterious means, the title passed instead to Drew, whose good-natured acceptance of the honor perhaps explains how it fell on him in the first place. Jonathan, it should be noted, still retains certain traditional prerogatives as the youngest novice, most notably the privilege of preaching at the community Mass on the Feast of St. Stanislaus Kostka. Satisfactory to all, this state of affairs might be a sterling example of another great Jesuit tradition - forsaking "either/or" in favor of "both/and." AMDG.


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