Feast of Sto. Niño
The Lord will grant peace and rejoicing to his people through the child who shall be called Prince of Peace.
The Lord is King, let the many isles be glad.
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18
God loves us and has made us his adopted children in Christ.
Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Whoever welcomes a child in his name, welcomes him.
Gospel MT 18:1-5, 10
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you,
unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
Reflection (from a recorded Homily of His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle)
The Church in the Philippines has a special permission to reserve one Sunday just to celebrate the child Jesus—the Santo Niño. The readings give us an opportunity to get to know Jesus as a child. By getting to know Jesus as a child hopefully we will also get to know ourselves better as children. Hopefully too, we’ll get to know a little better what Jesus meant when he made being a child condition for entering the kingdom of heaven, and also a condition for being great in the kingdom of heaven.
In the gospel, Jesus says if any one wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, he needs to be humble, like a little child. Using that expression of Jesus, we learn that being a child means being humble. Being a child doesn’t mean belonging to a certain age bracket, it means being humble. Who is the humble one? Who is the child? The humble one, the child, is someone who recognizes that he or she is in need of others. The humble one knows one’s incompleteness, one’s neediness. The humble one has shed off all pretensions of self-reliance, of self-sufficiency. The child in the eyes of Jesus is someone who does not get embarrassed, who does not get insulted to say with joy, with conviction, “I cannot complete myself. I need to rely; I need to depend on someone greater than I. I need to depend on others in order to be made whole.” That is humility. That is being a child. We see this exemplified in Jesus himself. Jesus’ being a child did not end with his so-called finding in the temple, as if he then led his hidden life, then grew up and lost his being a child. If being a child means belonging to a particular age bracket, then the childhood of Jesus ended.
But when we look at a child, being a child from the perspective of humility, the way Jesus does in the gospel today, then we can say Jesus was a child, is a child even up to now. Childhood, for Jesus is a perpetual state. It is his identity. He is son. And as son, especially in the Gospel of John, we see him totally dependent on the Father. He would even say, “I do only what I see the Father doing. I do not do anything of my own accord.” Every moment of his life, he enjoyed being dependent on God. That is being a child. Even in the poignant scene of the Agony in the Garden, Jesus was still a child. He had no one to run to. He expressed his needs to his friends. He was in need of comfort. Imagine the Son of God going to Peter, John, and James, literally begging them to spend time with him. He was in need and he was not embarrassed to accept that he was a child in need. He needed friends, he needed other people, more so, he needed the Father. At the end of his life on the cross he breathed his last by saying, “into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.” That is humility.
Now we understand why being a child, being a humble, is a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of heaven. For why will you desire to enter heaven if you don’t need God? Heaven will be the farthest thing from your mind. Why will I Need to go to the Father if I don’t need the Father? The greatness of the children in the kingdom of God is precisely because they need God. They are great because they have a great need for God, and they realize that God, through other people, through creation, completes them. These children are meant for the kingdom and they are great citizens of the kingdom of God because they are the ones who really need God. Jesus is the child, and that’s why he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is significant that the Santo Niño, the holy child, is always depicted as a king—robed like a king, with a crown, and very often with a globe. The one who will rule the world in the kingdom of heaven is a child, and he even declares that those who are children like him, in humility, in dependence on God, will be great as well in the kingdom of heaven.
Every age of humanity has its illusions—its favorite illusions. One of the illusions of our age is the illusion of being self-reliant, self-made. We even give awards to men and women who have proven their worth by being self-reliant. Dependence is not considered a virtue in our contemporary age. I used to sing the song “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” but I guess it is no longer sung these days. People who need people these days are not the luckiest people. They are scorned, they are considered as irritants, etc.
Part of the significance of the feast of the Santo Niño is for us to recover this important part of the life of Jesus: for us to be at home in our incompleteness, to even rejoice that we are incomplete. Because of our incompleteness we have a complete need for God—who will work through creation, who will care for us through nature, who will care for us through other people. By being a child, and being at peace in being a child once more, we can shed off all illusions all pretensions, all pride and find peace in others, peace in God—whom we all need.
Let me now go to a second point. In the gospel Jesus also says that whoever welcomes a child in his name, welcomes him. He also adds, “let no one despise these little ones, these children.” Whoever despises one of these little ones who depend on God, “Beware!” Jesus says. Their angels, their guardians, will see what you have done to them and will surely protect them. After all, they depend on God’s protection. This is reminiscent of what Jesus himself said in Matthew 25—the famous last judgment scene where Jesus tells the people, “whatever you do, or fail to do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you did it or you failed to do it to me.” There is this identification that Jesus makes with the least, with the humble, the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the prisoners, the sick. These are all people who need other people, and these are people who need God’s protection. They need God to rule in their lives. And Jesus identifies himself with them.
The feast of the Santo Niño does not only enable us to understand Jesus more as a child. It also helps us to develop the spirit of communion and solidarity with other “children.” And by being in solidarity with other “children”—the humble ones of God—we will be in deeper communion with Jesus Christ. I know it is not easy to welcome the needy and the beggars. When people come begging, parang ang sarap pagtabuyan kasi nasa isip natin, “Naku pag binigyan ko to mababawasan pa yung nasa akin.” Every beggar is perceived as a subtraction of what I possess. When needy people come to us, we get irritated. Lalo na yung, pabalikbalik na dumarating, nagpapahayag ng kanilang mga pangangailangan. Yan man ay pang pinansyal, yan man ay pangkabuhayan, yan man ay problema, Minsan ang sarap sarap sabihin sa kanila, “pwede ba ha, ayusin nyo na yan, tumayo na kayo sa sarili nyo ha. Huwag nyo na ‘kong puntahan.”
It is not always easy to welcome needy people. It’s also not easy to welcome children—the real children. In society, many children are seen as burdens of their families. So they’re put to work right away, so that they can be productive, so that they can be independent! Children, whose very nature is to be dependent, are being deprived of this wonderful stage of their lives where they can rely on the care, the concern that other people could give and that would develop their trust. But nowadays, no!Kailangan madaliin na sila’y makatayo sa sariling paa, sila ay makatrabaho na. At sa halip na sila ang umasa, ang nangyayari ngayon, iba pang mga magulang ang umaasa sa kanilang mga anak. We have seen cases of children who are abused that way—children who are put to work either as beggars, or parts of syndicates who will sell wares or be pickpockets. Why? They need to sustain the vices of their parents. Para may pang-inom si tatay, kailangan magtrabaho ang bata, para may pang-bingo si nanay, kailangan magtrabaho ang bata.
It is not always easy to welcome such children. Instead of solidarity, the tendency is to shut –off our eyes and we don’t welcome them. When we don’t welcome them, we are one step closer to despising and rejecting them. But Jesus makes it very clear that when you despise the humble ones of the world, when you reject them, when you don’t welcome them, you don’t welcome him too. You don’t welcome Jesus. This feast is also an invitation for us to be welcoming.
Let me make a proposal. For us to be more welcoming towards the humble ones of the world, we can set our minds to this thought: when we welcome those who are in need, we are actually welcoming, not only Jesus, but ourselves. One way to discover our true selves is by welcoming those who are in need, because the face of every person in need is my own face. I am also in need. They are not the only ones in need. When a beggar comes to you, don’t think yourself as the wealthy one who can share. With that beggar, you are also a beggar. If I can only see myself in the face of every beggar, I will not reject anyone—unless I’m willing to reject myself. In every child that is abused, if I can see my face also in need of caring and not abuse, then maybe I would be more caring, more welcoming, because I see myself in every child.
This feast of the Santo Niño is a powerful feast, for us all to be children, building a community, a solidarity, a communion in common neediness, in common dependence on God. A communion incomplete, being poor—being beggars. This celebration of the Santo Niño—at a time when our world seems to be treading through uncertain moments, uncertain times and the future looks bleak—is the time for us to be children once again, like Jesus. To be children unto one another and to be children together. Let us enjoy the company of our fellow children cared for by our loving Father, with Jesus to guide us. Let this feast of the Santo Niño be a renewal not only in getting to know Jesus, but getting to know ourselves and renewing our solidarity with other children and the humble ones of God.