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The First Martyrs

The Massacre of the Innocents - The First Martyrs

by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
(taken from Catolicismo, N° 654 - June 2005)

 

The fresco below, representing the Massacre of the Innocents, was done by Giotto, the famous medieval Italian painter. It was painted between 1302 and 1306 and is exposed in the famous Chapel of the Scrovegni, in Padua.

Fresco by Giotto

Around the time of the birth of Our Redeemer, Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee, ordered all boys under two years of age to be killed because the wise men had naively asked him if he had heard about the newly born king of the Jews.

Herod, figuring that there was not room on the throne for two kings, believed it necessary to eliminate that Boy. He had his soldiers look for the Child everywhere, but He was not found. So Herod ordered the slaughter of the innocents.

They were the first martyrs of the Catholic Church. Why martyrs? For a very simple reason: they were killed out of hatred for the faith and for God; out of hatred for the Child who had given them the honor of being born roughly at the same time He came into the world. Having been murdered for these reasons, they went to heaven as martyrs. They are the Holy Innocents.

When the Angels appeared on Christmas Eve, they proclaimed: “Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.” But the first actions that unfold from that day full of light, blessing and peace, are also laden with threats regarding the future. For a superficial mind, this seems to be in contradiction with the phrase “peace on earth to men of good will.” One has the impression that men of good will would neither suffer persecutions nor have to fight.

Probably some of the fathers and mothers of those children depicted in Giotto’s fresco were men of good will. Nevertheless, what happened to them? An immense tragedy: their children were slaughtered.

Herod appears on a sort of balcony, ordering the massacre. One sees the executioners looking for children whom their parents are trying to hide. In the foreground, one sees a woman who obviously does not want to give up her son. Nearby, one notices scenes of agitation and violence. It is indeed a dramatic scene.

Someone could ask, “Were they not baptized?” The answer is that they were baptized in their own blood; they were graced with the so-called “baptism of blood.” And they are, as far as one can see, the first deceased Christians to benefit from the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ shortly after their own birth.

 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for April 19, 2021

He asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise....

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April 19

 

A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life. 
A man without possessions asked a poor man for a Kingdom. 
A thief at the door of death asked to die like a thief and steal Paradise. 
 
One would have thought a saint would have been the first soul 
purchased over the counter of Calvary by the red coins of Redemption. 
 

But in the Divine plan it was a thief 
who was the escort of the King of kings 
into Paradise.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

 
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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Alphege of Canterbury

Alphege hastened to the defense of his people, and pressing...

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St. Alphege of Canterbury

As a youth, Alphege became a monk in the monastery of Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, England, afterwards an anchorite and later an abbot in a monastery in Bath. At thirty, at the insistence of St. Dunstan and to his great consternation, he was elected Bishop of Winchester. As bishop, he maintained the same austerity of life as when a monk. During his episcopate he was so generous toward the poor that there were no beggars left in the diocese of Winchester.

Alphege served twenty-two years as bishop of this see and was then translated to the see of Canterbury at the death of Archbishop Aelfric.

During this period, England suffered from the ravages of the Danes who joined forces with the rebel Earl Edric, marched on Kent and laid siege to Canterbury. When the city was betrayed, there was a terrible massacre, men and women, old and young, dying by the sword.

The Archbishop hastened to the defense of his people, and pressing through the crowd begged the Danes to cease the carnage. He was immediately seized, roughly handled, and imprisoned.

A mysterious and deadly plague broke out among the Danes, and, despite the fact that the holy prelate had healed many of their own with his prayers and by giving them blessed bread, the Danes demanded an exorbitant ransom for his release. As the Archbishop protested that the country was too poor to pay such a price, he was brutally assassinated.

St. Alphege was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to die a violent death. In 1023, the martyr's body was translated with great ceremony to Canterbury accompanied by the Danish King Canute. Although he did not die directly in defense of the Faith, St. Alphege is considered a martyr of justice.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a...

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The Robber Who Stole Heaven

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. His occupation being what it was, he would only increase his property by decreasing that of his victims.

One day, he was admonished by a local religious to change his course of life and thereby insure his eternal salvation. The only answer the robber gave was that for him there was no remedy.

"Do not say so," said the religious, "do what I tell you. Fast on each Saturday in honor of the Virgin Mary, and on that day of the week do no harm to anyone. She will obtain for you the grace of not dying in God’s displeasure.”

The robber thought to himself, “This is a small price to pay to insure my salvation; I will do as this holy man has prescribed.” He then obediently followed the religious’ advice, and made a vow to continue to do so. That he might not break it, from that time on he traveled unarmed on Saturdays.

Many years later, our robber was apprehended on a given Saturday by the officers of justice, and that he might not break his oath, he allowed himself to be taken without resistance. The judge, seeing that he was now a gray-haired old man, wished to pardon him.

Then the truly miraculous occurred. Rather than jump for joy thanking the judge for his leniency, the old robber, said that he wished to die in punishment of his sins. He then made a public confession of all the sins of his life in that same judgment hall, weeping so bitterly that all present wept with him.

He was beheaded, a death reserved for the nobility, rather than hanged. Then his body was buried with little ceremony, in a grave dug nearby.
Very soon afterwards, the mother of God came down from Heaven with four holy virgins by her side. They took the robber’s dead body from that place, wrapped it in a rich cloth embroidered with gold, and bore it themselves to the gate of the city.

There the Blessed Virgin said to the guards: "Tell the bishop from me, to give an honorable burial, in such a church to this dead person, for he was my faithful servant." And thus it was done.

All the people in the village thronged to the spot where they found the corpse with the rich pall, and the bier on which it was placed. And from that moment on, says Caesarius of Heisterbach, all persons in that region began to fast on Saturdays in honor of she who was so kind to even a notorious robber.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

In the mountainous region of Trent in Germany, there lived a notorious robber who made his living by bringing misfortune on others. 

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