Herods of every age continue their assault against the sanctity of life, the conscience, and the Church
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“In the days of Herod. …” — Luke 1:5
A seemingly endless battle. Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade on the great solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I have been particularly struck by the dramatic scene captured in a small statue depicting the urgent flight of the Holy Family to Egypt after the birth of Jesus.
Mary, seated on a donkey, protectively cradles the infant Jesus in her arms as St. Joseph, casting a worried look behind him, leads them in their hasty escape from the murderous rampage of Herod.
It is the dark drama of the Herods of every age who wage a relentless war against the weak and vulnerable that St. John Paul II called the “culture of death.”
Four Herods. In the Church’s calendar with its seasons celebrating 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 sanctity of life, upon traditional marriage and family, and the Church. They are like the “four horsemen” of the Apocalypse that continuously wage war upon God’s people, creating spiritual famines, poisoning souls with the plagues of sin, and with the human disasters that ultimately follow upon the rejection of God’s sovereignty and plan for the world (cf. Revelation 6:1-8).
Pan-demon-ium. It’s plain for all to see now: the demonic rage of supporters of the culture of death. It would seem, as I reflected upon in my previous column, “The mystery of iniquity,” that pandemonium has indeed been unleashed—literally, “all demons.” And the many Herods of our day are venting the devil’s “great fury” (Revelation 12:12).
Bookends of the culture of death. Of the Herod dynasty, we are probably most familiar with two: Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of Christ’s birth, and his son, Herod Antipas, who governed the region of Galilee at the time of Christ’s Passion. They are the personification of the alpha and the omega—the beginning and the end—of the “culture of death.” For they represent all who attack the sanctity of life, from conception to natural death.
Herod the Great. It was Herod the Great who renovated and enlarged the Temple of Jerusalem and added greatly to the city’s beauty. But he was an evil man, and though he was a great builder, his efforts were not for the greater glory of God, but only for growing his earthly power, no matter the cost.
Such was his pride that the thought of bowing before an infant bearing a heavenly crown sparked his “furious rage” and led to the slaughter of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:1-18). All those who legislate, fund, promote, and protect abortion, and do the same for assisted suicide and euthanasia, take upon themselves the name of Herod the Great.
Healing for those who mourn their decision. Fear is the very air that the culture of death depends upon and labors to create. And for every woman who has been overwhelmed by fear and had an abortion, there is a heart in need of the healing love and mercy of Christ. How blessed we are to have those who help post-abortive women to find the healing and peace their hearts cry out for, such as through the ministry of Rachel’s Vineyard.
Son of Herod the Great. Herod Antipas, like his father before him, also put innocent life to the sword—St. John the Baptist. His offense was that of defending the truth of the sanctity of marriage.
But before ordering the execution of God’s prophet, Herod Antipas put to the sword another prophet—his very own conscience. For though Herod Antipas knew John the Baptist to be a “righteous and holy man” and “liked to listen to him” (Mark 6:20), he still ordered his execution.
God’s prophet. A well-formed conscience, a lifelong task, permits the “voice of God” to resound loudly within the sanctuary of our heart in order to discern between that which is of God from that which is false and evil.
But false prophets, who echo Satan’s lies, are ever enticing us with the deadly promise of Herod Antipas, “Ask for anything you want and I give it to you” (Mark 6:22). And like the prophet Elijah, who was accused of being a “disturber of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17), the Church, too, as God’s prophet in the world, is accused of being a “disturber” of the conscience of people. If the Church suffers persecution, it is because it must always witness to the truth of God, and of man and woman.
Stewards or masters of life? When Jesus, following his arrest, stood before Herod Antipas, bound and degraded, Herod could find nothing from his questioning of Him to give value to Christ’s life. So, he handed him over to those who would crucify Him (Luke 23:8-11). Proponents of assisted suicide and euthanasia do the same: they assign a utilitarian value to life and argue that “quality of life” outweighs the “sanctity of life.”
But those who declare themselves to be the masters of life who determine life’s worth, and who attempt to silence God’s prophet in the world, the Church, bear the name of Herod Antipas.
Grandson of Herod the Great. Herod Agrippa I, like his grandfather, who sought to have the infant Jesus put to death, sought to put the infant Church to the sword.
Emboldened by public approval, Agrippa I “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 villainize the Church and persecute it for its witness to the Gospel truth take upon themselves the name of Herod Agrippa I.
Praying for the Church persecuted. When Agrippa I 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.
Great-grandson of Herod. The fourth to bear Herod’s name, Agrippa II, represents all who tolerate the Church if only it will limit what it preaches and keep it locked behind church doors. 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).
But his loyalty to the politics of Rome and its ways, and his friendship with Caesar quickly scattered the seeds of the Gospel in his heart before they could germinate. Those who want the Gospel censored of all that conflicts with their politics and morals and say “we are without sin” (1 John 1:8) take upon themselves the name of Herod Agrippa II.
Where are we heading? The culture of death continues to press its deadly agenda.
How long, then, will it be before we become like Canada or some European countries that tolerate the Church only so long as it does not witness 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.”
Catholic author Dr. Peter Kreeft observes that “once ‘God is dead’ to any society or ideology, so is His image of man…. When any culture says no to God, it says no to life…, and becomes a culture of death.”
The mission of the Church continues. When told that Herod wished to kill him, Jesus replied, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose’” (Luke 13:32). And so, too, must the Church, though the demons rage.