Holy Innocents: Following St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Example to Build a Culture of Life - Seton Shrine
Seton Shrine Holy Innocents

Holy Innocents: Following St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Example to Build a Culture of Life

Encountering the massacre of the innocents so soon after the joy of Christmas Day is a shock. How should we respond to such massive injustice? Mother Seton showed us that we can transform the world, one person at a time, by responding with love when faced with suffering, without asking “why” or waiting for justice.

When I was in college, I was president of the pro-life group. We invited dynamic speakers to campus, wrote editorials for the school newspaper, and hosted fundraisers for the local crisis pregnancy center.

One memorable day, in an effort to educate the college community about the impact of abortion in our culture, we created a dramatic display of crosses in the quad. Each cross represented 10 unborn lives. We set up 280 crosses to illustrate the 2,800 abortions that take place each day in the United States.

The crosses made some of our fellow students angry. They accused us of lying about the numbers and exaggerating them to make a political point. We were not lying, but I understood their discomfort. The crosses made me uncomfortable, too. They covered a huge portion of the quad. Each of them stood for 10 innocent lives lost to abortion each day. The word that came to mind when I looked at them was “massacre.”

And the injustice of abortion is a massacre. We don’t always have a visual display to help us see that, but the truth remains. Huge numbers of innocent lives are lost to abortion each day. For those of us who call ourselves pro-life, the challenge is in knowing how to respond to the sad, shocking, enormity of this injustice.

Every year on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the Church invites us to recall an ancient story of a massacre as we remember the ugly thing that King Herod did after the birth of Jesus:

“When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.’” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Those innocent babies, killed by an evil, jealous king, were the first martyrs for Christ. I’ve often reflected on this fact and considered how their mothers, like Rachel, in the face of such grave injustice, “would not be consoled.” Can we even imagine the grief of losing a child in such a violent, unjust way?

In reflecting on the Holy Innocents, I find an invitation to consider my own response to enormous, institutionalized forms of injustice today. In a broken world, it can sometimes feel like evil has won. I can feel paralyzed and powerless in the face of that.

And yet I’m encouraged when I recall a small example my own mother set for me during my days in the college pro-life group. There was a student at the school who became pregnant, and although she was scared and alone, decided to keep her baby. This was a great opportunity for members of the pro-life group to put our principles into action, and largely, we did. We raised money to cover the young mother’s rent. We bought clothing and diapers, and when the baby arrived, we offered childcare, so the young student did not have to drop out of her classes. I myself spent many hours in that apartment, caring for that tiny baby, while her mother was in class.

But then came the day when the young mom asked me to watch the baby for a different reason. It was Friday night, and she wanted to go out with friends.

When I got her message, I was at home with my mother, and I scowled. “Come on! I will babysit so she can go to classes, but I’m not watching her baby just so she can go out and have fun!”

I was a college student too, after all. I wanted my own Friday night fun. But I’ll never forget the quiet way my mother corrected me.

“I’ll stay with the baby,” she offered. “I don’t care why she’s asking for help. Everyone needs a break sometimes.”

Just like that, my mother taught me, and hopefully that young mom, an important lesson in love. Love doesn’t ask “Why me?” or complain that it’s not fair. Love steps in where it’s needed, and offers to help.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton offers us a beautiful example of this kind of pro-life love in action—of quietly doing the right thing and stepping out in love—from her own life and motherhood.

Through the years, Elizabeth cared for her own five children, but she also took on the care of her husband’s half-siblings when they were left orphaned at a young age. She managed financial stresses, the loss of her husband, serious illnesses, and even social rejection when she converted to Catholicism, all with unwavering faith. Quietly, faithfully, St. Elizabeth Ann stepped up and did the right thing, without asking “why” or looking for justice. This is just the sort of quiet love that can transform the world, one person at a time.

So if you’re tempted to despair in the face of enormous evil or injustice, let this year’s Feast of the Holy Innocents and the example of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton encourage you.

You can’t solve all of the world’s problems at once. You won’t be able to correct every injustice you encounter. But you can look around you and see how God is calling you to be pro-life by loving the people who need you. You can step out in faith and quietly do the right thing, and then the next right thing, trusting that you are making a difference. You can make someone in need feel known and seen and loved. That’s the pro-life example Mother Seton sets for us and the challenge God sets before us each day.

DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent,You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.

This reflection was originally published in 2019. Click here to view all Seton Reflections. 

Image: No. 21 Scenes from the Life of Christ: 5. The Massacre of the Innocents, Giotto di Bondone ( -1337)

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