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Rachel weepingThus saith the Lord: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel, weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were no more.”

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents – those children who were slaughtered by Herod’s men as they sought to kill the new-born King. Matthew uses it to show that the birth of Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecy. Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died in childbirth on the road from Bethel to Bethlehem, and we know from the first book of Samuel that the sepulchre of Rachel was at Ramah, so the implication is that Rachel was weeping for the slaughter of the children in nearby Bethlehem. In Jeremiah, the Lord tells Rachel not to weep, for although her children will be taken into exile, they will return. We know from Jeremiah 40 that Ramah was the staging post from which the children of Israel were carried off into exile. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is the staging post for the return from exile of the Holy Family.

In our time, alas, there are all too many dead children over whom Rachel might weep, and we might take a moment in our prayers today to remember the countless victims of abortion – and their mothers who will not be. This is not a moment for criticising those women who feel they have to resort to abortion, and then who feel they have to defend their position; for them we must try to feel love, and for them we must pray. The plight of children in so many lands is no better than it was in Herod’s Judea, and for the grieving parents of Peshawar, Nigeria and Mosul, our hearts go out, and our prayers go up. The hearts of men are hard, and some must be broken before they are fit soil for the seed He scatters. Of the violence we hear much, but of the work of countless aid workers, we hear but little, and yet, foremost in so many places where grief rules, is to be found the Church.

The Lord tells Rachel not to weep, and not far from Ramah, in Bethlehem, the Light who would light the world came into it, although the world knew it not, and so many have not heeded the light. Yet, without it, what voice would be so strongly raised against the sin of abortion, and from whence would come the hands needed to work in the dark and dangerous places of this world? Against the Light the darkness will always struggle, and the darkness is of our doing. We might say our hands are innocent, but do we do what we might to help those who are doing the Lord’s work in the dangerous places? For us it may be more what we do not do than what we do, where the occasion of sins lies, but there, too, lies an opportunity to do more than we can now.

We can, all of us, do one thing every day, and that it to remember in our prayers the innocents who suffer, and the wonderful men and women who devote their lives to caring for them. Let us remember to offer all of these up in prayer before the merciful Lord who warned sternly against harming his ‘little ones.

Lord Jesus, comfort every Rachel and all who weep for their children who are no more.