January 17, 2021 – Sunday, Feast of the Sto. Niño
Click here for the readings (https://adoseofgodtoday.com/sunday-liturgy/)
Once just right after mass, I saw a child sitting alone on the church floor worried & crying. So, I approached her & asked, “Oh, what happened? Why crying all alone.” Between sobs, she replied: “Father, I thought it was your hand that I reached to get your blessing, but it was the hand of another child. I was not able then to receive your “Amen” – your blessing”.
Her response is not only cute but also touching, since she only aspired to get my hand for a blessing but instead, was deprived of it. So, I told her then, “Don’t worry, Inday. I am here now. You can have my hand for blessings”. After wiping her tears, she took my hands and happily pulled it to touch her forehead for blessings. And she was so happy to hold my hand to walk with me. And more so happy and proud, when I carried her up in my arms until her parents took her… (& perhaps at the envy of other children).
In most of our churches in the Philippines, especially in Redemptorist Churches, it is unavoidable that children and young people would approach us, priests and ask our hand for a blessing after the mass. Different types of children, (big-small, active-weak, shy-gregarious) would gather around the priest with only one desire, that is to receive “Father’s blessings”, while asking: “Bless me, Father”. And I am sure they were not forced (or were not just forced) by their parents to do so, because for children, to be blessed or to be touched in their foreheads by the priest is a great, meaningful and wonderful experience and affirmation. One simple act or gesture of the priest can be a meaningful experience and can bring joy not only to the children but also to their parents, because they are affirmed and appreciated for their child.
Even we ourselves, when we were kids, we really enjoy when somebody affirmed and gave us attention, especially by the priest. I could still remember and never forget of the joy I experienced when the priest gave me attention and affirmation. It was my first confession. I was so small and weak then when I fearfully approached a big Irish Redemptorist priest smiling, had me sit in his lap and piously listen to my first confession. Because of that even in my childhood years, I am so happy and courageous to receive the blessing of the priest, see and talk to them because they know me and I know them, we are friends and they are human as I am. I feel like and I consider myself as I am KASALI, KABARKADA, KABERKS, KAPUSO, AT KAPAMILYA nila Father. One with Father and with the Church, part of the group, friends, family and church.
Even now within our own family, we claim & have our own so-called “fave” priest in our parish church. So also that even now as a priest, I would really appreciate when I am blessed and prayed over by my brother priests, by elders and by my loved ones. And now during pandemic times, I do miss the children attending mass in the church (as much as they also miss being with us in the church).
Like the little children, especially for Filipinos we also need attention, affirmation and blessing. Because for us, to receive blessing is not only a gesture of our respect and reverence but an expression of affirmation, attention, love, and support for all our endeavors in life so far, from somebody we love and respect. When our elders or leaders touch our foreheads to give us their blessings, it is an affirmation, a positive stroking for us that would mean, “I am OK. I am good and am doing fine in life. And above all, I am now blessed & also God’s blessing to others.” That is why… as priest, I really don’t mind and would love to bless or partake God’s blessing to people (both young and old).
In our gospel today, we hear that while his disciples are concerned with their own importance & proper decorum, Jesus instead insisted on them the importance of little children in God’s kingdom. For Jesus, children are also persons with rights and dignity. Children also enjoy personal relationship with Jesus and the Kingdom of God. They have the right and duty to God’s blessings, to grow in faith – to grow in their own personal relationship with God. It is also their calling to be a disciple – to come and follow Jesus Christ and express their response, by their love and respect, & being a blessing for God & others. That is why, Jesus asserts on us, “Let the children come to me, Don’t prevent them…for the Kingdom of God belongs to them.”
Today, the whole Philippine Church celebrates the feast of the Sto. Niño. We particularly honor today the child Jesus, who became part of our humanity and history. Sto. Nino plays an important role in the history & growth of our Filipino Christian faith. When in 1521 the first Filipino baptized Christians received & accepted the Sto. Nino into their lives & let their children to come & be blessed by Jesus. It gave birth to and flourish our Filipino Catholic faith which we have still live out & practice until now, after 500 years.
As the first Christian gift we received, the image of Sto. Nino becomes the symbol of our Filipino Catholicism, the first sacrament (symbol & means) for us to come to know, love & follow Jesus Christ. Through the Sto. Nino, Filipinos are now blessed with Christian faith & we are now God’s blessing of Christian faith to the world. Through the Sto. Nino, we Filipinos are now indeed blessed to bless others – now Gifted to give faith to the world. So now, as we are blessed by the Sto. Nino, child Jesus, may we be continually blessed & be a blessing to our children & youth of today by taking care & responsibility for the growth of their faith & mission in life, so that they may also be God’s blessings to others & to the coming generation, & thus God’s blessing continues to work & thrive in us & through us in our day to day lives. So be it. Amen.