Fr. Jun Sescon, our chaplain, brother priests, deacons, lay collaborators and staff, dearly beloved in Christ,
Today the Philippine Church celebrates the Feast of the Santo Niño. Our devotion to the Child Jesus is so widespread that the Holy Father has given us Filipinos special permission to celebrate every third Sunday of January this feast. This devotion so unique to our culture reflects our spiritual and psychological disposition as a people.
We have the propensity for small things. There was a time when our national bird was a Maya. It was only in 1995 when our Former President Fidel Ramos officially declared the Philippine Eagle as the national bird representing the Philippines.
In his classic essay entitled “A Heritage of Smallness”, Nick Joaquin enumerated many small things found in our culture. According to him, “Society for us is a small rowboat: the barangay. Our geography is a small locality: the barrio or the barangay. Our history for the Filipino is a small vague saying: matanda pa kay Mahoma o noong peacetime. Our enterprise is a small stall: the sari-sari store selling candies or cigarettes per piece, tingi tingi. Our Industry and production is the immediate searching of each day: isang kahig, isang tuka.” This is why in our spiritual life, we are fond of the Santo Niño. We can easily identify ourselves with the Child Jesus.
While this devotion is pleasing to our Lord, just like all other devotions, it needs purification, it needs to mature; for God is pleased with the child-like, but not with the childish. We can manipulate and command a child into doing what we want but with the mature Christ, we cannot.
As an adult, Christ confronts us in our wrongdoings, as He rebuked the hypocrites of His time. The Lord as an adult commanded His apostles to proclaim the Good News to the entire world. His thinking was big. Our ancestors in faith did the same. Our iconic cathedrals, basilicas, old churches are huge. They built them hundreds of years ago when the population was small, but they thought of us. We must also, therefore, think big for the generations yet to come. We must think big for the common good. We must think big for others’ welfare.
Why is it that children are pleasing to our Lord? Is it because they are sinless? No. It is because when they reach the age of reason, we guide them to confession. We know from our experience that at that age, we already had quarrels and that we had told small lies. Children are pleasing to our Lord not because they are innocent, but because of their complete dependence on their parents. This is what we adults lack. We depend on ourselves, on our intelligence and strength, on our resources and connections, so much that we fail to trust in God’s providence.
The Lord wants us to be humble so that He can dwell in us. He cannot dwell in the hearts of those who are so full of themselves. He wants us to be with Him forever. The gate to our heavenly home is narrow. Going there is an uphill climb. We need to be small and little so that we can pass through the narrow gate and carry our bodies in the uphill climb. That is why as Christians, we welcome all those things that make us humble.
This pandemic is certainly neither good for the economy nor for our physical and emotional well-being, but if seen from the great light that the Prophet Isaiah talks about in the First Reading, from the spiritual perspective, this pandemic is a help for us to bend our knees and to rely on God. It diminishes us and makes us humble and little.
In my experience when I am diminished on account of what I lack and need when I feel I am inadequate and not self-sufficient when I am in need of help, something more beautiful comes about. Through such a need, I would always experience God’s never-failing providence. Not only that, He would always send some individuals of goodwill, who are more than willing to be of help. And without my being aware of it, a community of friends is formed. This can happen to you as well. When God sends us friends, they could journey with us in faith for the rest of our lives.
I am inviting you, my dear brothers and sisters, not to be afraid when we are in need, not to be afraid of poverty or anything that would diminish us, for it is a divine call for humility. When we are made small by some humiliating circumstances, do not be afraid. For according to St. Paul in today’s Second Reading, that is the time when the Father of glory will grant us wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him.
The end of today’s Gospel speaks of Jesus coming down to Nazareth with His parents and was obedient to them. Like Jesus, we pray that we may be obedient to God’s will in the midst of painful circumstances that could reduce us into becoming like little children. Like the Child Jesus, may we also advance in wisdom, age and favor before God and our brothers and sisters.
The theme of our fiesta celebration this year is “Santo Niño, our Sojourner in Listening to the Father.” This year’s fiesta coincides with the synodal process of the universal church on the theme of synodality. The Church is ever on the way, ever on pilgrimage, ever on mission. If we stop journeying on the way, we end up standing in the way and we become stumbling blocks to the faith progress of our co-pilgrims and fellow missionaries.
In the Archdiocese of Manila, our synodal process is about listening: listening to the Holy Spirit, listening to one another in the Church, and listening to the rest of humanity. It is listening that demands openness and humility.
Our Lord Jesus, the Santo Niño, is our example and guide. His daily grind was marked by moments of prayer that were occasions of listening to the Father. During any instances, people observed that Jesus spoke with authority. When He spoke, people listened to Him. During the transfiguration, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”. This is because He first knew the secret of listening to the Father.
My dear brothers and sisters, as we continue to celebrate this Eucharist, let us ask the Santo Niño to teach us humility, obedience, and trust in the Father. Let us ask Him to journey with us in our growth in age, wisdom and grace. We ask Him to teach us to listen and be attuned to the Father’s voice. Amen. (RCAM-AOC | Photo by Maricar Santos/RCAM-AOC)