I wrote this story for last year's Feast of the Holy Innocents. The other day I found the video cassette of the Epiphany play mentioned in the story. Duncan helped me capture the two scenes from the play relating to the Holy Innocents. I hope you will share both the story, and the video which portrays the terror and anguish of a little girl facing the swords of 'Herod's soldiers'.

Mary and Joseph are curled up on the floor together with the child Jesus. They are trying to keep their eyes tightly closed. An angel in a long flowing gown appears through the doorway and grabbing Joseph’s arm, she shakes him roughly to wake him up.

“Get up and take Mary and Jesus and go into Egypt,” the angel announces loudly.

Soon Mary and Joseph are gathering their belongings. Mary scoops up Jesus and they disappear through the doorway.

It is Epiphany and our children are taking part in a play watched by a group of homeschooling parents. Everyone has a part including Gemma-Rose even though she is only two or three years old. She is one of the Holy Innocents. 

Callum bends down to speak to Gemma-Rose. “Now all you have to do is pretend to cry when Herod’s soldiers come. OK?”

Gemma-Rose looks up solemnly and nods her head. She can do that. Easy.

Now Callum, as Herod, strides across the stage and in a commanding voice he orders his soldiers to hunt out every young male child two years and younger, in and around Bethlehem. “Kill them!” he yells.

Through the doorway, a few young boys appear trying to look big and tough. They are brandishing their swords and they shout, trying to deepen their voices in a threatening manner.

And then there is a soul piercing scream. It rises in terror and my blood runs cold. Germma-Rose is petrified. She is trying to get away but there is nowhere to go. She is under a table and she pushes herself right into the corner of the room as far away from the ‘soldiers’ as she can. Tears are pouring down her face as she sobs.

Tears are also pouring down my face. I look around and see tears streaming down Gemma-Rose’s Godmother’s cheeks too. I want to get up and rescue my distraught daughter. Then I notice that Imogen is under the table pulling Gemma-Rose out. When they stand up, Gemma-Rose is clinging to her older sister, her arms tightly around her neck, and she is still sobbing uncontrollably. Imogen hugs her tight as she finishes her last speech then she brings her over to me. I enfold Gemma-Rose in my arms and our tears mingle.

This happened a few years ago. On that day, for the first time, I really reflected on how the Holy Innocents felt as they were taken from their mothers. How terrified they must have been. And how heartless were the soldiers who ignored their screams and killed them.

The other day we were talking about the Epiphany play. All the children remember it very clearly except for Gemma-Rose. She, thankfully, has forgotten what a traumatic experience it was. We had to tell her the story of the Holy Innocents. When I’d finished telling her how these innocent children lost their lives dying in Jesus’ place, Gemma-Rose asked, “But what about the babies’ mothers? Didn’t they feel very sad when their babies were killed?”

Of course these mothers must have grieved terribly. What would it be like to stand by and watch your child taken and killed and not be able to do anything to save him? A sword would have gone straight through the heart of every mother.

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachael weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Maybe we could add “and their grieving mothers”. The Holy Innocents are regarded as martyrs; they died not only for Jesus, but in His place. But their mothers also sacrificed so much and sorrowed deeply and could not be consoled.

Once someone told me, “Sue, you have suffered the death of one of your children. That is the greatest suffering a mother can know.”

I don’t know if this is true but I do know that it is an enormous suffering. I think back to the death of Thomas and I think of the deaths of the Holy Innocents. Yes, all mothers are united when they grieve for their children.

I watched Thomas die and, like the mothers of the Holy Innocents, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Tears streamed down my face and there was a huge pain in my heart and I didn’t want to say goodbye and let him go. But Thomas was not screaming in terror as he died. He was safely enfolded in my arms with all his family close by. His death was a gentle death. He quietly slipped away from us and this life on earth and was, I am sure, very quickly enfolded in the welcoming arms of God.

On this Feast of the Holy Innocents, and their grieving mothers, that is something to be very thankful for.

The Holy Innocents (2007) featuring
Callum as Herod
Imogen as an angel
Charlotte as a pink crowned king (in the final cast line-up)
Sophie as a smiling Holy Innocent
Gemma-Rose as a terrified Holy Innocent
and the 'soldiers' who were reluctant to act fiercely when Gemma-Rose began to cry

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  1. I cannot even imagine the pain those mother's must have been going through while their babies were ripped from their loving arms and killed. Unthinkable... but I think like your Thomas, the Holy Innocents were quickly embraced by the loving arms of God.

  2. Noreen,

    "the Holy Innocents were quickly embraced by the loving arms of God" That is such a comforting thought, isn't it? The babies, who have had their lives cut short by abortion, are sometimes compared with the Holy Innocents. Perhaps these babies also find themselves instantly in God's arms. I've been thinking about their parents. I cannot see how they can escape the consequences of their actions. And when they come to realise what they have done, how they won't be able to go back and change the situation, how distressing that must be.

    Praying for you and your work to save the unborn.

    God bless!

  3. The pastor at Cjristmas vigil mass used that quote in his homily. He talked of the Holy Innocents, and that they were Christ's very first witnesses with their lives. He had just returned from the funeral of his niece's daughter, a 6 yr old who was murdered on her school three days after her 7th birthday. he saw a whole town where many mother's suffer that pain of loss, including the terror. And he reminded us that Good and Light has already won against such atrocious evil, and we are all called to be witnesses, too. Thank you again, Sue, for your words that touch many! Susan

    1. Susan,

      It is sometimes difficult not to despair when we witness such evil in the world, especially when it involves innocent children. We need to be reminded by such people as your pastor that Good and Light have already won. Yes, how much those mothers must suffer knowing their children's last moments were full of terror. It is hard enough to deal with the ordinary pain of grief. My situation pales into insignificance compared to the grief of these mothers. I have a lot to be grateful for. God blessed me with so much grace after Thomas died. I pray that He will bring about so much good from so much evil and comfort the grieving mothers.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. God bless you!

  4. Sue, this was such a hauntingly amazing reflection. Thank you. The photos and your thoughts...combine to form a picture of such compassion .

    I mentioned your post here in mine of today:

    Love this Sue. Just perfect.

    1. Chris,

      Like you said in your post, we read about evil things that have happened, but our emotions aren't touched deeply enough. It wasn't until I watched Gemma-Rose's reaction to the 'soldiers' in the play that I began to feel the horror, the grief and the fear that must have resulted from Herod's actions.

      Thank you so much for making my story part of your blog post. Whenever we remember the Holy Innocents and their mothers, I will also remember your anniversary. What a special feast day to have been married on!

      Happy anniversary!


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