January 17, 2021 – Sunday, Feast of the Sto. Niño

Click here for the readings (https://adoseofgodtoday.com/sunday-liturgy/)

Before this pandemic, when parents usually bring their small children in the Church, I have observed how parents or guardians discipline their unruly children. When a child begins to throw tantrum or just become noisy, they would say this, “Shut up, behave. Father will be mad at you. See… he is there. He will catch you.”

Parents or guardians seemed to incite fear to the children by portraying that Father is terrible when he gets mad. One time, I sat in a corner while waiting for the mass to begin, a mother was trying to control her boy from going around. Since she noticed me, she began to make the boy fearful of my presence telling him that I will get mad. I looked at her and looked at the fearful boy but told the boy rather, “That’s not true. I won’t get mad at you. You go and play.”

This weird way of disciplining children reminds me of our Gospel today on this Feast of the Sto. Niño from the Gospel of Mark. The disciples scolded the people who brought their children to Jesus that he might touch them. The disciples might have thought that the presence of the children was a mere nuisance and disturbance to the Lord. Considering the culture at that time, children had no legal identity, thus, not of great importance. However, this kind of rejecting attitude towards the small and those whom society thought was lesser, received indignation from Jesus.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” Thus, the Lord condemns such attitude that rejects, ignores and hurts the small and the weak.

That is why, it will also be good for us to be aware, on this feast of the Sto. Niño, of those rejecting, ignoring and hurting attitudes in our community against the small and weak, particularly towards children during this pandemic.

A study by the Save the Children revealed that one in three households around the world reported violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.[1] The study also found that 1 in 6 children suffered violence at home. This study also said that there is an increase of negative feelings and psychological distress when lockdowns were imposed. This explains the significant cases of depression and suicide during this time as reported by Department of Health and World Health Organization.[2]

Moreover, according to UNICEF Philippines Representative, “The Covid-19 pandemic is worsening the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation in the country. Children are increasingly becoming victims of circumstances that are harmful to their development and well-being.”[3]

Just few months ago, a girl was raped at home. However, parents were not that concerned on how to take care of their daughter because of poverty. Both parents lost their job when the lockdown was imposed in the city. It was the neighbors who responded and wanted to rescue and help the girl. But then, when the incident was reported, the authorities even suggested not to pursue the case because it will only become troublesome to them and will cost them a lot of money. It was suggested to just settle it with some money and let it go.

What have we become? Have we succumbed to darkness to abuse and oppress the weak among us?

These situations are just few reported examples of rejecting, ignoring and hurting attitudes towards the small and the weak. No wonder why Jesus expressed indignation towards those who prevented the children to come to him. God cares and loves the small and the weak. God desires to embrace and bless them.

Yet, our world and the hearts of others are gloomed by anger, by hatred, by violence, by indifference, by evil. The world is also gloomed by the desire to have power, to gain control and manipulation, to be above others. The world is also gloomed by our dishonest and selfish leaders, by our unjust practices, by our support of the corrupt, by our blind obedience of the violent. Following these rejecting, ignoring and hurting attitudes is letting our hearts be gloomed.

Yet, this is the very world and the very hearts as well that God chose and continues to choose again to be born. God only desires that everyone will be gifted with His light, with His embrace and with His blessing.

Thus, the world may be darkened by our tragic experiences and gloomed by our individual and collective sins; the world may be darkened by our painful and sorrowful experiences and gloomed by indifference and violence perpetrated by many of us, directly and indirectly, God still chooses to bring the light, to give us the grace and to grant us his salvation.

This is what God wants to remind us in today’s feast. In the first reading, Isaiah proclaims the coming of the light because those of walked in darkness will see a great light and those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light will shine.

In Isaiah’s prophecy, God will cast away the darkness and the land of gloom. But what is this darkness and land of gloom?

It is our sin and guilt. It is our indifference and hatred. It is our pain and sorrow. It is our difficult and overwhelming situation whatever they may be. Darkness is around us. We may not be aware of it, because we might have become so used to it. However, God has come to us to bring light and salvation. Indeed, light is hope. It is God’s forgiveness. It is mercy. It is freedom. It is the fullness of life.

God, indeed, will destroy the yoke on our shoulders that burdened us. This is the yoke of slavery from sin and evil. God destroys them not by violence but through the gentleness of God’s own yoke of friendship, of companionship. Remember, Jesus has offered us to take his yoke. This is what the presence of the Sto. Niño is reminding us now.

God will also smash the rod of the taskmaster. This is the rod of our selfish desires. This shall be smashed by the Lord not through anger and hatred but through God’s gift of peace and mercy. Again, this is what the presence of the Sto. Niño is reminding us now.

Isaiah tells us that a child is born to us, a son is given us. He is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace . This is the Sto. Niño being gifted to us. As Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, he said, “Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him.”

Therefore, we know that we have been gifted with the presence of God among us. Let his presence dispel the darkness in our hearts, the pain of violence in us, the evil of indifference in our hearts. Let this magnet of love, the Sto. Niño rather embrace us, bless us and place his hands on us.

On our part as a Church, as a community and you as parents and guardians, and all those in the position of authority, let us not prevent the children, the small and the weak among us to be closer to Jesus. Let us all bring one another to God by protecting one another, by nurturing and supporting especially the vulnerable, by embracing and accepting one another. In this way, we may become a people of gentleness and of love. Hinaut pa.

[1] See https://www.rappler.com/world/global-affairs/one-third-households-globally-report-violence-home-during-coronavirus-pandemic-study

[2] See report https://www.who.int/philippines/news/detail/10-09-2020-doh-and-who-promote-holistic-mental-health-wellness-in-light-of-world-suicide-prevention-day

[3] See https://globalnation.inquirer.net/190923/unicef-pandemic-worsening-child-online-sexual-abuse-exploitation-in-ph#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20COVID%2D19%20pandemic%20is,their%20development%20and%20well%2Dbeing.&text=The%20child%20has%20no%20interest%20in%20school%20and%20friends.

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