The culture of death assaults life, the conscience, the Church, and common good
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
Within the seasons the Church celebrates in its calendar that mark the mystery of our redemption—from the birth of Christ to His Passion and resurrection, to the beginnings of the infant Church — four tragic figures stand out.
Each of them bears the name of Herod of the Herodian family dynasty. And each represents in a particular way the culture of death and its assault upon the most vulnerable, upon traditional marriage, conscience rights, and the Church. Sadly, the “days of Herod” are not much different from ours today.
We are probably most familiar with two of the Herods. The first is Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of the birth of Jesus. And the second is his son, Herod Antipas, who governed the region of Galilee at the time of Christ’s Passion. In these two figures are represented the alpha and the omega — the beginning and the end — of the culture of death, with its attacks upon the sanctity of life from conception to natural death.
It was Herod the Great who renovated and enlarged the Temple of Jerusalem and added greatly to the city’s beauty. But out of fear that his kingship and efforts to build a kingdom of his own design would be lost to another, Herod ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:1-18) at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Like Herod the Great, the culture of death views the innocent and most vulnerable of society as obstacles to building a greater society. How horribly sad it is that an innocent child in the womb is viewed as a threat to progress and one’s personal kingdom. Those who promote abortion, those who legislate to protect the so-called “right to choose,” and promote assisted suicide and euthanasia take upon themselves the name of Herod the Great.
Fear is the very air that the culture of death draws its breath from. And for every woman who has given in to her fears and had an abortion there is a heart in need of the healing love and mercy of Christ. How blessed are those who help post-abortive women find the healing and peace their hearts cry out for.
Like his father before him, it was Herod Antipas who also put innocent life to the sword — St. John the Baptist. But before ordering the execution of God’s prophet, Herod Antipas put to the sword another prophet: his very own conscience.
Herod Antipas knew John to be a “righteous and holy man” and “liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20), even though John’s words convicted him of his sin against the sacredness of marriage. When we have a well-formed conscience, it can be said that is God’s inner prophet, helping us to discern between that which is of God and that which is false and evil. But there is the ever-present temptation to listen to the many false prophets who loudly compete for our attention, who “call evil good, and good evil, who change darkness into light, and light into darkness …” (Isaiah 5:20). Those who seek to silence God’s prophet in the world, the Church, take upon themselves the name of Herod Antipas.
Like his grandfather Herod the Great, who sought to have the infant Jesus put to death, Herod Agrippa I sought to put the infant Church to the sword. Agrippa I, emboldened by public approval, “laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the Church to harm them,” and had “James, the brother of John, killed by the sword” (Acts 12:1-2). Those who attempt to silence the Church and its witness to the Gospel truth take upon themselves the name of Herod Agrippa I.
When Agrippa had Peter arrested (Acts 12:3-11), it was through the “earnest prayer … made to God by the Church” that he was liberated from his shackles by the angel of the Lord. Likewise, we must never stop praying, not only for the innocent and persecuted, that they might be “rescued … from the hand of Herod,” but also for sinners, and even those guilty of capital crimes on death row. No more would we want God to limit the exercise of His mercy toward us in dealing with our sinfulness should we limit our own exercise of mercy toward others.
Agrippa’s son, Herod Agrippa II (27 AD – c. 93 AD), represents all who tolerate the Church if only it will limit what it preaches. It was Agrippa II who responded to St. Paul’s witness saying, “A little more, Paul, and you will make a Christian out of me” (Acts 26:28). Agrippa II was a trusted friend of Caesar and had great respect for Roman law. But those who want the Gospel censored, and want it said that “we are without sin” (1 John 1:8) take upon themselves the name of Herod Agrippa II.
How long will it be before we become like Canada, or some European countries that tolerate the Church only so long as it does not speak publicly about its moral teachings and the truth of the human person? When it is considered a “hate crime” to speak out in defense of the sanctity of life, the truth of human sexuality and traditional marriage, or conscience rights, we know we are living in “the days of Herod.”