HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B. FEAST OF SANTO NIÑO
HOMILY THEME: BE LIKE LITTLE CHILDREN
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, “Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, ‘Ryan, you be Jesus!’
It is always a great experience listening to the simple but profound wit and humor of children. This Sunday, we gather together in the presence of the greatest Child of all, the Holy Infant Jesus, the Santo Niño.
Filipinos have exceptionally strong devotion to the Santo Niño. And this is the reason why Rome granted to the Philippines a special permission to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January. It is, therefore, important to make sure that we all understand the real meaning of this devotion.
In the first place, the devotion to the Santo Niño is inextricably linked with the history of the Filipino people. One may wonder why the Philippines, surrounded by non-Christian countries, is the only Christian nation (i.e., aside from the tiny East Timor) in Asia. This highlights the fact that we are a nation specially loved by God for having received the gift of faith from the Spanish missionaries. And the first wave of missionaries came with the great circumnavigator, Magellan, who offered as a gift to the king and queen of Cebu the image of Santo Niño. In short, this devotion is particularly dear to the Filipinos for this is the first religious image that set foot on Philippine soil. It is the concrete historical icon that marked the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines.
Secondly, this devotion has profound theological significance, especially in relation to the Mystery of the Incarnation. The Second Person of God took on our human nature. He is true God, and at the same time, true Man. As true Man, he became like us in all things, except sin. The image of the Santo Niño is a clear expression of our belief in the God-made-Man. Jesus Christ passed through each and every stage of human life, becoming like a child, simple and humble, to show us the way back to the heavenly Father.
And finally, this devotion is very much in line with the Lord’s exhortation in the Gospel: “Whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:16). The image of the Santo Niño conveys to us the all-important lesson of becoming child-like in order to enter God’s kingdom. Like the two boys in our story, we are reminded, “You be Jesus!” It is, after all, what it essentially means to be Christian – we must be like Jesus. And the way to do this is to emulate the attitude of a little child. Basically, we can mention three attitudes of a child: humility, obedience and trust.
These traits are easily perceptible in little children, but are very difficult and unattractive for adults. When we tend to be engrossed in our achievements and accomplishments, the image of a child reminds us to be humble, for “he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” The most basic foundation in Christian holiness is humility. As a building cannot go up higher without a strong and deep foundation below, so also it is impossible to grow in holiness without an abundant supply of profound humility.
The second virtue is obedience. As we grow older, we hold on to our rights, freedom and prerogatives. We insist on our power and independence. We naturally resist any interference or threat to our freedom and autonomy. We find it repugnant to submit our will to somebody else. Hence, it is quite understandable that for many of us, obedience is not an attractive virtue. The image of a child is presented to us so that we will always be reminded that, notwithstanding our status and position in life, we still are God’s children. And so, we have to submit ourselves in humble obedience to the will of the heavenly Father. In his agony in the garden, Jesus gave us the perfect example of an obedient Son. He prayed, “Father, let this cup of suffering pass, but not my will but your will be done.” It is true that obedience is not attractive to adults for it runs counter to our human rights and freedom. Yet, obedience to God enhances our rights and freedom as His children and inheritors of the kingdom. Ultimately, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Obedience unites us so closely to God that in a way transforms us into Him, so that we have no other will but His.” St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “It is not hard to obey when we love the one whom we obey.”
And finally, the virtue of trust and dependence on God is evident in a child. This is not also attractive to adults who place so much value on self-sufficiency. We want to have control over everything in our life, with our intricate plans and avowed expertise in every aspect of human affairs. But the Lord reminds us: “I am the vine, you are the branches; apart from me you can do nothing.” “Unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labor.”
Our devotion to the Santo Niño should lead us to follow more closely the example of Jesus, the humble, obedient and trustful Son of God. As the Holy Child reminds us to become better children of God, we are also challenged to give ample attention to the welfare and protection of children in our midst.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422