Jan. 19, 2020 – Feast of the Sto. Niño, third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 9: 1-6; Psalm 97, Response: The Lord is King, let the many isles be glad.; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 15-18; Gospel: Matthew 18: 1-5, 10
Every third Sunday of January, Filipino Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Sto. Niño, a special privilege given to the Philippine Church.
The Santo Niño de Cebu, along with Magellan’s Cross, are the oldest Catholic symbols of our faith and soul as a church.
This 2020, we are on our final year to prepare for the 500th anniversary of Christianity in the Philippines in April 2021.
This January is a good springboard for our spiritual reflections for the year ahead.
I am always fascinated that two of the most well-known feasts in the country are celebrated within weeks of each other: the traslacion of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo on Jan. 9, and the Feast of the Sto. Niño on Jan. 19.
Both celebrations give us a window into the soul and heart of the Filipino. From different angles, they give the childlike qualities that this Sunday’s Gospel extols.
Jesus’ invitation to be childlike is an invitation to be humble, to trust and to entrust:
“Amen, I say to you, 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.” (Matthew 18: 3-4)
Pillars of joy
In “Book of Joy,” Douglas Abrams chronicles the conversation between two spiritual icons of our time, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Douglas points out that humility, humor and humanity share a common root word, humus—the most basic, most organic, “lowly” element of the earth.
“We have to have a sense of humility to be able to laugh at ourselves, and that to laugh at ourselves reminds us of our shared humanity,” Abrams writes.
Humility (most especially the humility of a child) and humor (the ability to laugh and be joyful)—“mababaw ang kaligayahan”—are what “remind us of our shared humanity” and connect us with others and ultimately with God.
Children, devoid of ego and filled with awe and inquisitiveness, makes them open to others and ultimately to the totally other, who is God. It is this humility that creates connectedness and common ground that leads children to trust others and God.
It is this virtue of trust we carry into life that makes us devoted—to family and friends, to a sense of duty, purpose, meaning and mission for others and for God; devoted to who God is to us, to our relationship with Jesus who is at one and the same time the Señor Sto. Niño and the Poon Nazareno.
The Sto. Niño is the God with us, coming into our world to share in our humanity as a child who trusts humanity and entrusts himself to them, to Mary and Joseph, and, later on, to his friends, and ultimately to his Father’s will and mission for him.
The Poon Nazareno is the God who came to save us from our sins and open a path for us to eternal life through Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross.
Our trust is no ordinary trust, but one of devotion, at times dismissed as fanaticism.
Looking more deeply, it is a devotion that empowers us to believe in miracles, the incarnation or realization of the power of God’s compassion, his loving, providential presence in our life.
This is the power of Poon Nazareno devotees, the namamanata because of how a miracle has touched their lives and the lives of loved ones for whom they pray for, a miracle that has changed them forever to be a devotee.
This is the inspiration of the devotees who dance on the streets, joining the revelry in honor of the Sto. Niño and chanting “Viva Pit Señor,” the abbreviation of the Cebuano expression, “Sangpit sa Señor,” a plea to a king or to God for help.
Ginger Conejero, an ABS-CBN news anchor now based in the United States, wanted to understand the devotion of her father’s family to the Poon Nazareno. She asked her father to bring her to the traslacion a few years ago.
Her father told her that when the Poon passes in front of them, she was to leap and walk on the shoulders of the people toward the Poon, hand her hanky to the men on the carroza who will wipe it on the Poon, hand it back to her, at which point she is to jump back.
The moment came and she sprang into action. Everything happened as her father described it and when she received her hanky, in the midst of the din, her father’s voice stood out, “Ginger, jump! I am here!”
She broke down because at that moment she realized how much her father had been present in her life. It is a presence that empowers by name.