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Things on my mind today… how we easily pick and choose those for whom “the dignity of all human life” matters for and who it does not matter as much for, and also Odoardo Focherini. The phrase “dignity of all human life” no doubt brings forth images for you, and meaning. I’m guessing that you may have never heard of Focherini, unless if you, like me, read about him in today’s Give Us This Day. Reading about him on today’s Feast of the Holy Innocents reminded me that perspective and context are everything, and that makes picking and choosing our moral precepts problematic.
Liturgically in the church today is the day when we recall the massacre of the Holy Innocents by Herod. Enraged to learn that the magi had deceived him, old Herod decided it would be a good idea to just go ahead and murder the children of Bethlehem. You know, he was throwing a wide net “just in case.” We wouldn’t want any dangerous babies around, would we?
Obsessed as I am with matters of immigration debate, the irony is not lost on me and I find myself with a bitter taste in my mouth. Last week on December 21 it was reported that the White House was considering a policy where children would be separated from their parents in cases of undocumented human beings crossing the border illegally. You can read about that here. Honestly, reading terms like “family units” or “unaccompanied alien children” (also known as “UACs“) makes me sick to my stomach. This is how dehumanizing human beings, all born with the dignity of human life in them, takes off.
If you find yourself feeling your heart pulled when you hear or read today’s Gospel from Matthew referencing Jeremiah 31:15 that says,
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more
Then I ask you to reframe that in the context of families separated at the border. I also ask you to consider that people like Focherini (don’t worry, I’m rambling, but I did not forget about him) are literally sainted (he is beatified) for having risked their lives for others during WWII. Honestly, can we really cheer on strong arm immigration policy and at the same time pray while reading about Focherini, sometimes called “the Italian Schindler?”
The contrast leaps off the page for me… “Family units” and “UACs” strip human beings of their humanity as they split up families. Just like Herod did when he decided that the best path was to just wipe out male children under a certain age as either pre-emptive strike or precaution. I’m not suggesting that we open the borders, but I am saying that without prayer and without a human view, the jump from being Focherini to Herod might not be as far a leap as you think.
If there is a unified message in today’s Gospel and the memory of someone like Bl. Odoardo Focherini, it is that we are called to see the life of Christ in all human beings, bestowed at birth, the importance of all family units, and the need for people to not live in the shadow of fear of their leaders. And the need to sometimes – like Focherini and others, not to mention that of the Magi or Saint Joseph, remember that the most important law is the one of God in our hearts. May we all have the ear of our heart open to discern God’s voice, and the courage to act when the time comes.
Not long after posting this, I was reminded of the beautiful and haunting hymn that comes from 16th century England, Coventry Carol, and I finally have time to post about it here. What a reminder of this day and of the import of the slaughter of those so young. The lyrics read like this:
Lully, lulla, thow littell tiné child;
By, by, lully, lullay thow littell tyné child:
By, by, lully, lullay.
O sisters too how may we do
For to preserve this day
This pore yongling for whom we do singe
By, by, lully, lullay.
Herod the king in his raging
Chargid he hath this day
His men of might in his owne sight,
All yonge children to slay.
That wo is me pore child for thee,
And ever morne and say
For thi parting nether say nor singe
By, by lully, lullay.
Here is an interesting link about the song. I am posting two versions of it – I love them both.