14 January 2012

GROW UP LIKE JESUS

Feast of the Sto. Niño (Proper the Philippines)
Is 9:1-6/Ps 98/Eph 1:3-6, 15-18/Mk 10:13-16

We celebrate today a feast proper only to the Philippines: the Feast of the Sto. Niño.  This feast is celebrated nowhere else but here.  In the other parts of the Catholic world, the prayers and readings for today are taken from the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  But the Holy See has granted to us, Filipino Catholics, the privilege to celebrate the 3rd Sunday of January, which this year falls on the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, as the feast of the Sto. Niño.  This feast has its own readings and principal prayers for the Holy Mass.

As young as when we were in elementary school, we already learned from Social Studies classes that when the king and queen of Cebu were converted to Christianity and were baptized by the friar missionaries, who, with Ferdinand Magellan, arrived at our shores in 1521, they received as gift from the Portuguese explorer an image of the Sto. Niño.  Thus, from then on, the devotion to the Sto. Niño signifies very well the beginnings of Christianity in the Philippines.

The Philippines is Christianity’s first-born in this part of the world.  For centuries, our country has been referred to as the only Christian nation in the Far East.  Today, however, with East Timor, the youngest sovereign nation in this part of the globe, whose population is predominantly Christians, too, the Philippines, while no longer called as the only Christian nation in the Far East, is still looked up to as the oldest Christian nation in the region.  Christianity, particularly, the Roman Catholic Church, is already four hundred years old in the Philippines.  But the image of the Sto. Niño remains a little child – an infantile image for a very old religion.

No problem with the infantile image of the Sto. Niño, provided that we, Filipino Catholics, are not as infantile in the Christian Faith.  After all, Jesus did not remain a toddler all His earthly life.  Yes, He was born in a manger but He did not make a stable His permanent address.  Jesus went down, with His parents, Mary and Joseph, to Nazareth, and there at Nazareth, Lk 2:40 and 52 say, He grew up in wisdom, in age, and in grace.  If devotion is configuration, then authentic devotion to the Sto. Niño must necessarily include growing up, as it were, with Jesus.  Have we, as a nation that is predominantly Christian, grown up with Jesus?  Are we growing up with Him?  Individually, do we, with Jesus and like Jesus, also advance in wisdom and in grace, not only in age, before God and men?  If the honest answers to these questions are ‘no’, there must be something wrong not only in our devotion to the Sto. Niño but also to our practice of the Faith as well.  The Feast of the Sto. Niño, therefore, gives us more than the necessary occasion to thank God for the gift of coming to a knowledge of and faith in Him and to celebrate its four hundred years in our shores.  It must also be an opportune time for us to seriously examine our selves and see how much we have or have not grown with Jesus.

Our readings today, which, as I said at the start of our reflection, are proper to this local feast and not to the universal liturgy this Sunday, give us signs of growing with Jesus.  Can we identify these signs to be present in our life, in our spirituality, in our kind of Christianity as individual and as a nation?

The first reading today sounds very much as an echo of the recently concluded Christmas season.  Once again, we are reminded that the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation to His People came in the person of a fragile Baby Boy: Jesus Christ.  It should surprise us, to say the least, that God became little.  The helplessness of a child revealed to us the might of God.  God became a baby.

The second reading sings of the great mystery finally revealed to us in and through Christ Jesus.  God predestined us, in Christ, to be His sons and daughters.  In the person of Jesus, His Son and our Lord, God came to share in our humanity so that we might come to share in His divinity.  God is not only the Father of Jesus, He also wanted to be our Father, too.

The Gospel, for its part, brings the two readings together.  On the one hand, because God became little – not only in size and age, but also in social standing – He has so intimately identified Himself with the little ones of this world.  Therefore, if we want to find God, our destination is no longer Bethlehem but the streets, the byways, the alleys, the orphanages, the hospitals, the slums of this world.  Where there is “littleness” in its many forms, God is there, and we can adore Him there by lovingly serving, accompanying, and empowering the little ones.  On the other hand, the clearest proof of our being sons and daughters of God is in our own littleness, too.  We may not be socially disadvantaged or physically handicapped or culturally marginalized or politically oppressed or suffering in any way, but the expression of our littleness is in the kind of life we live.  Is our lifestyle humble, simple, and thankful, like that of a child’s?  Do we really allow God to be Father to us and so we place all our trust in Him?  With all our confidence in God, we cannot but be humble, simple, and thankful always.

Thus, the signs of growing with and like Jesus, as proposed to us by the readings today are: one, accepting the littleness of God and finding Him in the little ones; two, allowing God to be Father to us in concrete episodes in our life that really demand absolute trust in Him; and three, being childlike and never childish not only in our particular practice of the Christian Faith but also in the living of our life in general.

The Feast of the Sto. Niño is a liturgy proper to the Philippine Church.  But come to think of it, the Sto. Niño Himself is a challenge to all Christians: grow up with Jesus, grow up like Jesus!  Such is the essence of devotion.  Such is the ultimate joy of a disciple.  May we all become more and more like Jesus.

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