For Poems Like This For Childermas

Childermas, by Peter Paul Rubens (1609-1611)

-Feast of the Holy Innocents 

Have you ever heard of Emily Hickey? Me either, at least not until just now. Born in 1845, she is a child of the Emerald Isle, an Irish lass born in 1845 into a family fathered by a Protestant Minister of the Church of Ireland.

But somehow she decided to swim the Tiber and she was received into the Catholic Church in 1901. Prior to doing so, her literary talents were well known in her day, her poems being published in literary journals and such.

I found her in the literary journal published by the Jesuits known as The Irish Monthly. After her conversion, she became a Catholic apologist, utilizing her literary gifts in the service of the King. Eventually, she took the habit and became a Camelite nun.

I promise to learn more about her and share with you what I find. In the meantime, have a look at this poem she wrote regarding the Holy Innocents, whose feast we celebrate today. Because often the best way to try to understand a paradox of this magnitude, is through the meditations of a muse.

To Irene at Childermas

Thanks we give to-day, Irene,
For the little darling babies,
Who gave up their lives for Jesus;
Ere their hearts had learned to love Him,
He, a little One, as they were,
He, the mighty King of Heaven,
Who had made the babes and loved them.

Out of mouths of babes and sucklings
God has ordered might most glorious.
He ordained these little babies
All to be His blessed martyrs.
He who lay on Mary’s bosom,
He who built the earth and heaven,
Made and loved the little babies.

Some were very sorely frightened
When they saw the cruel faces,
Felt the cruel hands that tore them
From the bosoms of their mothers,
From their sporting in the gardens,
From their pretty toys and playthings,
From the fairness and the sunshine.

Some laughed mirthful at the sword-edge
Flashing keen upon their eyeballs,
With the sun’s good light reflected,
Brightest, prettiest of playthings—
Stretched their little hands in rapture,
Kicked and crowed to reach the brightness,
Passed away without a struggle.

There was bitter wail and crying
Of the mothers there in Rama;
Rachel weeping for her children,
Rachel, whom the touch of comfort
Could not reach, because they were not.
All the little dear boy-babies
Lying white and still, Irene!

Mary’s Baby was in safety,
Blessed Mary’s Child in Egypt,
Safe with Mary Maid and Joseph.
He could coo upon her bosom,
She could clasp Him in her rapture:
Holy One that God had sent her:
Other little babies murdered!

Why did He allow the babies,
Whom He loved so very dearly,
To be killed by cruel Herod?
He who could have saved the babies,
He who could have spared the mothers
All those bitter throes of anguish?
Why, ah, why, my little Rene?

Sweetest Jesus, kindest Jesus,
Came to earth to shew the babies
And the mothers, how He loved them.
Just because He loved all babies,
He allowed the sword to slay them!
Just because He loved all mothers,
He allowed these mothers’ sorrow!

For the Blessed Mary’s Baby
Must grow up to holy manhood;
Toil as men are daily toiling,
Suffer cold and pain and hunger,
Shame and spitting and betraying,
Die upon a Cross to save us:
Rise again to raise us also.

He has made His babies happy,
Darling little saints, who served Him
“Not by speaking, but by dying.”
He has crowned them with His fairness,
Made them happy, and for ever
Comforted the weeping mothers
With the fulness of His comfort.

Sweet! when Jesus whispers to you,
When He shows you how He loves you,
You will love Him too, Irene;
You will serve Him as He willeth;
You will know the great world holdeth
Nothing like the love of Jesus,
Nothing like the Heart of Jesus.


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