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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 January 17, 2021

People hate the truth for the sake of whatever it is they lo...

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January 17

 

People hate the truth
for the sake of whatever it is they love more than the truth.
They love truth when it shines warmly upon them
and hate it
when it rebukes them.

St. Augustine of Hippo


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Anthony of Egypt

Anthony’s parents died before he was twenty leaving him in...

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St. Anthony of Egypt

Anthony was born in 251 in the village of Koman, south of Memphis in Egypt. Anthony’s well-to-do parents died before he was twenty leaving him in charge of a younger sister, and the owner of a considerable estate.

In 272, wishing to leave all to follow Christ, after securing his sister’s support and upbringing, he distributed his holdings among the poor, and retired to a life of solitude. He lived a life of penance, sleeping on a rush mat on the bare floor, eating and drinking bread and water. The devil was allowed to attack him grievously, on one occasion subjecting him to a beating that left him for dead, only to be saved by friends.  Anthony emerged victorious from all these trials.

At the age of thirty-five, the holy hermit moved from his solitude in the vicinity of his native village, to a location across the eastern branch of the river Nile where he made his abode in some ruins on the summit of a mountain. There he lived for twenty years, rarely seeing any man except one who brought him bread every so often.

St. Athanasius, his friend and first biographer, speaks of Anthony as not only spending his time in prayer and meditation but also in making mats. He also gardened.

At fifty-four, being sought out by men who wanted to follow his way of life, Anthony founded his first monastery in Fayum in a series of scattered caves, which he visited occasionally.

In 311 as religious persecution again broke out under Emperor Maximinus, Anthony left his solitude to give courage to the martyrs in Alexandria. When the persecution abated, he returned to his previous solitude. He later founded another community of monks near the Nile called Pispir, though he continued to live on his mountain.

Years later, at the request of the bishops, Anthony again journeyed to Alexandria to confute the Arians, who denied the divinity of Christ. All ran to hear the holy hermit, and even pagans, struck by the dignity of his character, flocked around him. Heathen teachers and philosophers often sought him out, and were astounded at his meekness and wisdom.

Anthony died at age 101 surrounded by his spiritual sons in his hermitage on Mount Kolsim. His last words were, “Farewell, my children, Anthony is departing and will no longer be with you.” Thus saying, he stretched out his feet and calmly ceased to breathe.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him h...

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Mary and the Muslim

Don Octavio del Monaco was a wealthy citizen of 17th century Naples. Like many of his class, Don Octavius had several Muslim slaves in his household. These children of Islam were amazed at the kindness of their “master.” He fed and clothed them better than they received in their native land. In return, his slaves attended to their tasks with diligence, as Don Octavius did not over work them, but assigned them duties in keeping with their dignity as children of God.

If these Muslim slaves had any reason for complaint, it was the gentle persistence with which their master and his wife exhorted them to give up their false religion and become Catholics. Don Octavius even went so far as to invite the slaves to join his family in the chapel to worship the one true God with them!

Our story today is about one young slave in particular. His name was Abel, like the slain son of Adam and Eve. He felt drawn in a peculiar way to a lamp that burned in front of a shrine to Holy Mary. Abel would purchase the oil needed to keep the lamp lit from his own meager stipend. As he continued to practice this humble devotion, he would say, “I hope that this Lady will grant me some great favor.”

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian. At first the Turk resisted. But she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said to him: “Now no longer resist, Abel, but be baptized and called Joseph,” conferring on him a name that was very dear to her Immaculate Heart indeed.

On August the 10th, 1648, there was much rejoicing in Heaven, for on that day “Joseph” and eleven other Muslims converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Their conversion was brought about by the kindness shown by Don Octavius and the special intercession of the Mother of God.

Our story does not end here. Even once this son of hers was safely baptized, Mother Mary delighted in visiting him. Once, after having appeared to him, she was about to depart. But the Moor seized her mantle, saying, “Oh, Lady, when I find myself afflicted, I pray you to let me see you.” In fact, she one day promised him this and when Joseph found himself afflicted he invoked her, and Mary appeared to him again saying, “Have patience", and he was consoled.

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

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian.

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