January 17, 2021 – Feast of the Sto. Niño de Cebu

Fr. Manoling Thomas, CSsR

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In the Philippine Daily Inquirer of January 16, 2009, Mr. Ambeth R. Ocampo in his column “Looking Back”, mentioned about the image of the Sto. Niño of Cebu.  He wrote: “This image reminds us of the conversion of Cebu in 1521, shortly before Magellan set off to be killed in the Battle of Mactan. It is believed that the image enshrined in Cebu is the same one given by Magellan to Humabon’s wife when she was baptized and renamed Juana.”

In the Philippines, the 3rd Sunday of January, is celebrated as the Feast of the Sto. Niño. It is a feast particular to the Philippines, and very much related to the history of Christianity in this country.

Today’s gospel is taken from Mark 10:13-16. In this section, Mark tells his readers and listeners, what the requirements or conditions are to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus entered the Kingdom of God by way of suffering and death. This too is the way for every disciple of Jesus. To enter the Kingdom of God, one must be willing to strip oneself of ones ego and false self.

Who are the beneficiaries of the Kingdom of God? Mark mentions four [4] groups of people: a) the children [10:14]; b) the insignificant, marginalized, and “rejects” of society [10:13-16]; c) the poor [10:17-27]; and d) those who have learned detachment [10:28-31].

In today’s gospel, Mark describes Jesus in a very humane and personal way. Jesus got irritated and offended by the way his disciples treated the children that people were bringing to him. Jesus was just so delighted to see these children, that he “took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them.” And he said: “Truly I tell you; whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” [10:15].

What does Jesus mean by that statement? Jesus is neither encouraging nor advocating infantilism. Infantilism is the attitude and behaviour of a person who is already grown up but continues to behave and to act in a childish and immature way. What Jesus advocates is that we adopt the attitude of humbly acknowledging and recognizing our own human limitations and ultimate dependence on God! It is also the attitude of recognizing our interdependence with each other. Jesus tells us not only to live in the realm of our thinking, reasoning, mental analysis, arguing, and excessive worrying. Jesus advocates a balanced life of reason, commonsense, feelings, and faith.  Integrating all these essential human characteristics makes us a total human person.

What in a typical child, that Jesus wants us to possess, in order to be admitted into the Kingdom of God? A typical child acts as a total person: open, trusting, sincere, honest and spontaneous! A typical child is aware of his/her need for others and dependence on them.  To aspire for the Kingdom of God is to recognize and to accept our dependence on God and our interdependence with one another.

But how is this message of Jesus related to the feast we are celebrating today here in the Philippines? Mr. Ambeth R. Ocampo, says that the image of the Sto. Niño “reminds” us of the conversion of the Filipinos into the Christian faith. But what sort of conversion did we Filipinos have? What kind of faith do we have at present? Is it a dynamic and growth-promoting faith, transforming us into mature Christian-Catholics? Are we a people and nation, worthy to be called, the “only Catholic nation in Asia”?  Our devotion to the Sto. Niño is more than 400 years old!  Over these years, what are the visible signs indicating that our Christian-Catholic faith is indeed healthily growing and maturing?

Let us take a look at our practices over the centuries which we associate with our devotion to the Sto. Niño.

Which of these we can consider as healthy and growth-promoting to our Christian faith? And which ones are keeping us stunted or retarded, and infantile in our faith? Are our practices expressing our devotion to the Sto. Nino in accordance with Jesus’ teachings; or are some of them infected with superstitions, fanaticism, sentimentalism; and even bordering on paganism and idolatry?

Let us celebrate with deep gratitude to God and to the missionaries, the 500th Jubilee of receiving the gift of the Christian faith! At the same time let us honestly and sincerely ask ourselves: what kind of Christianity, are going to bring and share with our Asian brothers and sisters who have not yet heard about Jesus Christ and his Gospel?


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