2:16-18. Then Herod, seeing that he had been deceived by the magi, was greatly enraged, and, having sent orders, he killed all the male children two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its surrounding districts, according to the time which he ascertained from the magi. Thus was fulfilled what was spoken of through Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice in Ramah was heard, mourning and great weeping: Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are no more.”
Worldly power and violence are only a cloak for internal weakness. It is not the strong and mighty, those who are able to impose their own will, those who are able to “steal, kill, and destroy” (Jn 10:10) who win the ultimate victory. This earthly life is not a game of the strong versus the weak; it is not a “survival of the fittest.” It is not a contest of strength. It may appear so to us on the surface—namely, that the strength of evil is perpetually overpowering the weakness of good—but that is because our view of the world has been turned upside-down. It is because our hearts have been corrupted, perverted, twisted, and incline towards what is wicked, are delighted in violence and the use of power; and are afraid of weakness and vulnerability, of trust in another, in the unknown and uncontrollable mystery that is greater than we are. And this fear leads to anger and hatred, to violence and rejection; to the bloating up of one’s own ego until there is no space for the “threatening” presence of anyone else. So we see it play out in the life of king Herod, who has all of the male children two years old and younger in the area surrounding Bethlehem slaughtered. A grown man, wielder of royal power, threatened by nursing babies, by children who are barely learning to walk!
But so it has been throughout history, whether in the rape of lesser nations by those that consider themselves superior, or in the slaughter of millions of innocent children in abortion and infanticide, or in the domination of power-hungry men over women, or in the enslavement of races considered less-than-human, or in the industry of pornography—and its frequently accompanying sex trafficking*—which is fueled by the lust-for-power just as much or more than it is fueled by the lust-for-pleasure. It was present, twisting minds and hearts, in the ancient colliseums of Rome, and it is present in modern video games and cinema—this twisted delight in the sufferings of others, this willingness to watch or perpetrate horrible acts that violate the dignity of others.
Our society has become saturated with violence, from our understanding of sexuality to our forms of entertainment, and now we are beginning to reap the fruits of it in the rise of heinous crimes of untold violence. The very fact that so many people find entertaining movies or games that, to the pure of heart, indeed to ordinary children, are traumatic, should make the point clearly. The argument that it is “not real” but only simulated violence is not a very strong one; every human action, in a certain sense, always arises in the imagination before it is put into external act, so if the imagination is corrupted, twisted acts will follow. The transition from enjoying violent acts on the screen to enjoying violent acts in real life is not a very large one.
Let us return to the conflict of the strong and the weak. The oppression of the “little ones” by those who consider themselves great—as in the massacre of the innocent children by Herod—is a sorrowful theme present throughout world history. It is one of the many terrible fruits of original and personal sin, a scar on the heart of a world marred from God’s original intentions and far from submitting to the peace and harmony of his reign. But what is so surprising, perhaps, is that when God himself came into this struggle, into the heart of this conflict, he did not come as worldly victor, as stronger-than-the-strong, to bring vengeance upon the oppressors. He came, rather, as the weakest of the weak, the littlest of the little. He came to suffer all the pain of afflicted hearts, all the anguish of persecution and violence, within himself, and, through the indestructible purity of his own love and undying intimacy with the Father, to overcome it within himself.
To defeat violence with violence, power with power, in fact, is to only feed the same sickness. The only thing that can truly overcome power is the weakness of love; the only thing that can heal the heart of the enemy, of the persecuter, is mercy and forgiveness. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44), Jesus says. He asks us to turn the other cheek to those who would strike us (Mt 5:39), not in a pusillanimous victim-complex, in cowardice, but precisely in the courage that stands strong in the face of the onslaught of evil, wielding only the Sign of the Cross, certain that evil will recoil on itself and destroy itself, and that the void of wickedness can only be filled, indeed healed and renewed, by the redeeming and recreating energies of infinite Love.*
Thus the Church has long celebrated these little children killed under command of king Herod as the first martyrs of Christian history, the first persons to die in witness to the kingship of Christ. Before they could even speak with their mouths, their deaths bore witness to the one King whom Herod sought to destroy, and foretold of the eventual death of Christ, and of his Resurrection. For the Son of God lived in each of them, and died in each of them, just as on Good Friday each of us died in Christ, and on Easter Sunday rose with him. He has, in other words, taken up this entire universal conflict between good and evil, between the weakness of love and the power of hate, into himself, and has resolved it in his own Paschal Mystery: in the reality of his Love totally given in the Eucharist and in his suffering and death, birthing, through undying intimacy, the glorious light and radiant, world-embracing communion of the Resurrection.
*Even when pornography and sexual acts occur “between consenting adults” this does not mean that such actions are truly free. There are many forms of slavery besides being subject to the stronger will of another person. Cultural and societal pressures, enslavement to the passions, wounds and traumas of the past, ignorance of the meaning of reality and of the body: all of these hinder and limit human freedom. Viewing pornography, therefore, is never merely viewing “consenting” intercourse between responsible adults (which act itself, of course, is also innately harmful, as it intrudes upon the sacred and hidden sphere of union which should never be transgressed); it is viewing wounded persons wounding one another, and participating in this process of wounding by one’s own gaze and imaginative participation. These persons deserve to be loved and cherished for their own sake, in their own aspiration towards beauty and truth, towards what is truly good, and not used as an object of our own fantasies.
*The longing for this redeeming mystery is inscribed into the depths of our hearts, and even without being aware of it we aspire for it, aspire for the “evangelical eucatastrophe.” This longing becomes present even in contemporary art born in a culture far from its Gospel foundations, since it is inscribed in our very hearts. For example, the ending scene of the Star Wars series—the climax of Episode IX—is a powerful illustration of precisely this mystery: the forces of evil and darkness, incarnate in a single diabolical personage, are reflected back upon themselves by the indestructible sign of the cross born by the one who “sums up” in herself all the history of goodness and light, incarnating it in herself. The evil, recoiling upon itself, destroys itself, but the bearer of the cross dies in the process, suffering unto death for goodness and light; yet the story does not end in death, for the crying void of longing left after the dissolution of evil is filled by the resurrecting kiss of love, and the one who sacrificed her life for the victory of light is raised up again through the love that is stronger than death.