Third Day of Christmas: Holy Family and Holy Innocents

Did you ever notice that half of the gifts are birds?  First a partridge, yesterday turtle doves, tomorrow calling birds, today “three French hens.” Then after the “f i v e   g o l d  r i n g s,” there are geese and swans.

Why “French” hens? Well, it seems that they are a special breed of chickens, called Faverolles, first developed in France in the 1860s. Just as turtle doves is not to be confused with your ordinary pigeons perched on statues in urban parks, so these French hens are really classy chicks.

They are very mild-mannered and docile, and so make great pets; they are great layers and their eggs are wonderful; and their meat is delicious. They are also beautiful, and are often bred specifically for exhibition. So giving three females to your sweetie poses an interesting (and difficult) set of dilemmas for her or him:

Do I breed them, which would be hard work, necessitate buying a properly qualified male (or paying for his services). Perhaps I could sell or trade one of the hens for this. But I was given three hens. Is that what my beloved would want? It might end up that I’m paying more attention to the birds than I am to him or her. Then again, they might win some contests, and we could live really well with these birds as money makers. Or I could lose my shirt on them.

Well, I could always just keep them as laying hens. Not much profit in that, but we’ll have some good breakfasts for a while. On the other hand, I’m getting some geese in a few days who are producing eggs. Perhaps I should wait on the eggs bit.

They are nice pets. They tell me their meat is delicious, but can I bear to eat them?

Isn’t it that way with most of life’s choices? God’s gifts basically give us to tools, but the choice is left up to us. All choices involve trade-offs, and some are worse than others.  And God says, Hey, I’m giving you what you need, not necessarily what you asked for or want. What are you going to do with it? And then, God’s silent . . .

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family, which this year replaces the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Holy Family is always the Sunday after Christmas (unless Christmas itself falls on Sunday, then it gets complicated); the Holy Innocents is always on December 28. This year the martyred babies get bumped. Pity, they have a lot to teach us.

For the Holy Family, I refer you to what I wrote on our parish website for a snippet of my thoughts.

Read the story of the Holy Innocents in conjunction with the visit of the Magi in the second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. Wikipedia summarizes the history and lore surrounding this event very well.

Human life was cheap in the days of ancient Greece and Rome. It is equally so in our day as well, although we make a pretense at respecting life, we are very selective about whose life has any value. Often quite arbitrary too – out of sight out of mind. While we profess to uphold the dignity and sanctity of human life, we all need to ask ourselves how consistent we really are in practice.  For whom will we go the extra mile to preserve and safeguard, and to whom do we fail to pay attention to? Not one of us is without guilt in this regard.

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Author: tomwelbers

I have been a Catholic priest for nearly fifty years, most of that time serving in parish and college campus ministry. I also have professional degrees in theology and liturgy, as well as institutional management, and continue avidly to explore pastoral theology, Scripture, liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and spiritual direction. I have a passion for sharing insight into our Christian heritage through teaching, writing, and leading pilgrimages, especially to Early Christian World sites in Turkey. Now actively retired from parish ministry, I live at Nazareth House in Los Angeles.

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