January 15, 2023 – Sunday, Feast of the Sto. Niño
Is 9:1-6; Eph 1:3-6, 15-18; Mt 18:1-5,10
A study by the Save the Children revealed that one in three households around the world reported violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. 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.
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.”
While I was stationed in Iligan City at the height of this pandemic, there were concerned neighbors who asked for help in our Church. They asked for a counseling and legal assistance for a girl who was raped at home. The 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 police 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 and to children particularly. No wonder why Jesus expressed indignation towards those who try to abuse the weak and try to promote themselves to be great.
On this feast of the Sto. Niño, the Gospel of Matthew tells us how the disciples asked Jesus as to who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. Naturally, each of them must have been boasting one another about their closeness with Jesus, their great qualities, their faithfulness, on who was the first to be called and who was the favored one among them.
At this point, the disciples must have thought that Jesus’ kingdom will be like those of kings sitting on a golden throne in the palace with a great army, a political king. They must have believed that Jesus will inherit political power and vast riches and material wealth. Thus, obtaining a position and having a closer relationship with Jesus will give them the security and assurance of a higher and influential position when Jesus reigns. What they aspired was to have power. This was their idea of greatness in the kingdom of heaven.
As Jesus knew them, he had to teach them and to mold their hearts according to God’s desire. That’s why Jesus taught the disciples an important lesson through a child. Jesus took and placed the child in their midst and said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Children, at the time of Jesus were considered not important because they were dependent, they have no rights and thus cannot be called as fully man at all. Jesus teaches us that in the Kingdom of heaven, greatness is measured in the capacity to receive God. To receive God is best expressed in welcoming, in embracing and in receiving the least in our community.
We are called to receive God in the person of those who are the least in our church and society. We are called to aspire to be great but not in the way that we will be above others, or to seek a higher position at the expense of others, but in the way of embracing others.
This capacity to embrace others and to embrace God fully is the message and call on this feast of the Sto. Niño. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, our God Almighty, has appeared to us as a child, who was born in a manger because through the image of a child, God shows us gentleness, not wrath and violence; the Lord embraces us with mercy, not anger and death.
Hence, Jesus also calls us, “See that you never despise one of the these little ones.” On our part as a Church, as a community and you as parents and guardians, and all those in the position of authority and power, may we be instruments of protecting the weak in our communities. Let not our hearts be corrupted by our desire to be great and be above others by abusing the weak but we aspire to be great in the kingdom of heaven through our loving and life-giving service. Let our decisions and actions in life, let our relationships and our very person be filled with the grace of the Sto. Niño that brings freedom and the fullness of life. Kabay pa.
 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.