Saturday, January 07, 2006

Herods Galore

One of the many Herods the world has known.
(Epiphany 2006: This homily was given on January 8, 2006, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 2: 1-12.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Epiphany 2006]

This homily is entitled, “Herods Galore.”

Many Christians don’t realize it, but there were Herods galore in the New Testament. Some people mistakenly think that every time a Herod is mentioned in Scripture, the reference is to the same person.

Not so.

Herod the Great (who, incidentally, was anything but great!) was the Herod who met the Magi in today’s Gospel story, and who shortly thereafter murdered the Holy Innocents (the little boys of Bethlehem two years of age and under).

After he died in 4 BC, his son Archelaus took over part of his kingdom. This is why St. Joseph took Jesus and Mary to live in the town of Nazareth after they returned from exile in Egypt. Joseph was afraid that Archelaus might try to kill our Lord, as his father had tried sometime earlier.

Herod Antipas, another son of Herod the Great, was the man who married his brother’s wife, Herodias, and had John the Baptist beheaded in prison. He was also the Herod who mocked our Lord on Good Friday during his Passion.

Two other members of Herod the Great’s family—a grandson and a great-grandson—are mentioned in the Book of Acts.

As you can see, there were definitely Herods galore in New Testament times. But there are also Herods galore today! In fact, our modern-day versions far outnumber the ones we find mentioned in the Bible.

The most obvious Herods among us are those who directly attack the “holy innocents” of our generation: the unborn, the elderly, the terminally ill—through their support of evils like abortion, euthanasia, and physician-assisted suicide.

But they’re certainly not the only ones around, especially at this particular time of the year.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that every Advent and Christmas season, a vocal group of people surfaces whose sole purpose is to “kill” devotion to Jesus! They can’t kill our Lord in the same way that Herod the Great tried to kill him 2,000 years ago, so they do what they consider to be the next best thing: they try to destroy the faith and hope that Christians have in their Savior.

A couple of weeks ago Catholic author Mark Shea made the following observation in a column he wrote: “It’s Christmas, that joyous time of the year when the mainstream media goes in search of apostate scholars to re-assure them that the Gospel is all a bunch of hooey.”

Well said! And it’s so true: each and every Christmas (and Easter) we’re forced to listen to the “insights” of people like Scripture scholar John Crossan—an ex-priest who doesn’t believe in the divinity of Christ, and who thinks that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs after the crucifixion!

How pathetic is that?

And then there are those who try to kill faith in Christ by attacking Christmas and everything spiritual that’s associated with it. Dr. Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, monitors this kind of activity every November and December. Here are some of the things he reported within the last few weeks:

Regarding the attempt to eliminate Christmas trees, he wrote: “In place of a Christmas tree, there is a ‘Grand Tree’ in Atlanta; a ‘Union Tree’ at Purdue University; a ‘Peace Tree’ in Washington Park, Illinois; and a ‘Friendship Tree’ can be found in Hoffman Estates, Illinois and Manchester, Massachusetts.”

In an entry on his web site dated December 22nd, he said: “Senior citizens were told by government officials in Winter Park, Florida that they were not allowed to sing Christmas carols. Government workers in Illinois were ordered not to say ‘Merry Christmas’. . . .
“In a park shared by Newport Beach and Atlantic Beach, Florida, the private display of a manger scene was censored, but a large menorah was said to be okay. No schools in Palm Beach permitted crèches, but some allowed menorahs. School districts in Glendale, Illinois, Eagle County, Colorado and Long Island, New York, banned Christmas religious songs but allowed songs celebrating Hanukkah. . . .
“A school in the Belleville, Illinois area banned all references to Christmas but allowed an Indian, John White Antelope, to speak about his native religion.”

Donohue even reported this statement, made by a Jewish gallery owner in New York, Andrew Edlin: “All the people who have murdered us over the years have Christmas trees.”

To Mr. Edlin, if you happen own a Christmas tree (and who among us doesn’t?), then you’re as bad as Hitler and Stalin and every other bloodthirsty anti-Semite who’s ever walked the face of this earth.

That, my brothers and sisters, is called bigotryanti-Christian bigotry!

On a lighter note, Donohue did propose (obviously tongue-in-cheek) that we make some changes in the traditional songs of the season. He wrote: “In keeping with the spirit of political correctness, the Catholic League recommends the adoption of the following songs at Holidaytime: ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Holiday’; ‘O Holiday Tree’; ‘All I Want for The Holiday Is My Two Front Teeth’; ‘We Wish You a Merry Holiday’; ‘The Twelve Days of the Holiday’; ‘The Holiday Song’; ‘Rockin’ Around The Holiday Tree’; ‘You’re All I Want For The Holiday’; ‘Baby’s First Holiday’; ‘Do They Know It’s The Holiday’; ‘Merry Holiday Darling’; ‘I’ll Be Home For The Holiday’; ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like The Holiday’; ‘Blue Holiday’; ‘The Holiday Waltz’; ‘Holly Jolly Holiday’; ‘So This Is The Holiday’; ‘Merry, Merry Holiday Baby’; ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday’; ‘Twas the Night Before The Holiday’; “Holiday Serenade”; [and last, but certainly not least] ‘Feliz Vacaciones’.”

What can we do about all this? How can we effectively deal with these modern-day Herods who want to undermine the faith and hope we have in our Savior (who also happens to be their Savior)? Are we helpless in the face of these onslaughts?

No, of course not. We can—and we should—do a number of things to bring about positive changes in our culture.

First and foremost, we should pray. We should pray for the conversion of those who ridicule and attack Jesus and the sacred events surrounding his birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We should do that every day. As the Lord himself said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44).

But that doesn’t mean we should let these enemies of Christ and the Church walk all over us! Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus say, “Be a doormat!”

As Catholics and Christians, we should be respectfully proactive, doing all that we can to defend our faith and stand up for our rights as American citizens.

A good place to start, incidentally, is with the simple phrase, “Merry Christmas.” At the appropriate time, let’s not be afraid to say it! Let’s also not be afraid to say, “Happy Hanukkah” to our Jewish friends and acquaintances. In other words, let’s be honest about what we’re celebrating during these sacred days!

And if someone doesn’t like it and challenges you on the matter, ask them to show you some respect! After all, that’s the line they use on us all the time, isn’t it?

I also suggest that you write a letter or make a phone call, if you meet a Herod in the workplace, or in a store, or in a school or government setting. Respectfully—but firmly and clearly—let those in charge know (by a call or in writing) that you don’t agree with or appreciate attacks on our Savior and his teachings. Letters and phone calls can—and often do—have a big effect on rules and policies.

And finally, please do not forget to speak with your wallet or with your pocketbook. Unfortunately, it’s the only language some modern-day Herods understand! In other words, avoid patronizing businesses and other establishments where the birth of Jesus is not explicitly acknowledged. Remember, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Magi all dealt with Herod by avoiding him: the Holy Family fled to Egypt; the Magi went back to their own country by another route.

Avoidance can have a powerful affect on the Herods of today—especially in the business world. In mid-November, for example, the American Family Association organized a boycott of Target stores all over the country, because the company refused to recognize Christmas in its marketing and advertising. Over 700,000 people signed up. Then, on December 9, the company announced that it was changing its policy. In its official statement, Target said, “Over the course of the next few weeks, our advertising, marketing and merchandising will become more specific to the holiday that is approaching—referring directly to holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah. For example, you will see reference to Christmas in select television commercials, circulars and in-store signage.”

When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen; and when Americans talk with their wallets and pocketbooks, businesspeople listen!

That’s a fact.

In conclusion, let me simply say this: Herod the Great did not have his way with Jesus, because good people like Mary, Joseph and the Magi were proactive, and did what they could to keep the Savior safe.

May all the modern-day Herods be just as unsuccessful in their attempts to destroy faith in Jesus, because of the many positive efforts of committed Christians like us.