Cardinal Tagle's Homily in celebration of the Feast of the Sto. Niño
My dear friends in the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ, we give thanks to God for bringing us together around the table of the Lord as we join the Filipino community all over the world in celebrating the special feast granted to us to commemorate Jesus the Child, the Sto. Niño. At maraming salamat po sa inyo na na nakikiisa sa misang ito. Alam ko sa inyong mga iba’t-ibang parokya ay napakaraming iba’t-iba ring uring pagdiriwang ng Sto. Niño. Of course, we remember Cebu where the original image was found but the devotion has spread. We have Kalibo, we have Iloilo, we have Leyte and in Manila we have Tondo and Pandacan. We pray in a special way for the Sto. Niño de Pandacan Parish, the church of more than 300 years got burnt and also the original statue of the Sto. Niño. But I sent a message to them and they said we will celebrate nonetheless. The buling-buling dance will be danced profusely and more energetically. Well that’s being a child, a child.
Someone asked me, “So the Sto. Niño is about Jesus when he was still about until he was around seven years old or maybe even less?” And yet this person asked me, “What about the statue of Jesus when he turned five years old? Or when he turned 11 years old? When he turned 20 years old?” I said, “Well, I do not know because after his 12th birthday, the hidden life, then we will see him again already an adult.”
But I think his being a child, his being a “Niño” is not about the early stages of his life, his human life only. His being a child has been his character for all eternity and remained with him during his life as a human being and continues to eternity. Jesus is forever a child. Eternally and forever a child. But in his incarnation of course he became a human child. But that childlikeness, of his being King will always be a mark of Jesus.
The King promised in Isaiah that will be born from the line of David. This child will rule with wisdom, protecting his people. He will be gentle, he will bring peace because a child will be born. And this child according to St. Paul in the second reading in his letter to the Ephesians, this child shares his being a Son and Child of God with others such that in the child Jesus we have become adopted sons and daughters of God. The Kingdom of this child is a kingdom of sharing and blessing. It is not a kingdom that hoards blessings. “I am a child. I am God’s child and I will be the only one!” No, this child and this kingdom with all the about gifts, gifts shared and gifts in abundance because they are shared. We thank God for giving us a King who is a Child.
But in the gospel we see something consoling and also quite disturbing. We have been given the grace to be children like Jesus in an adopted way. So his being a child is shared with us. It is a free gift according to St. Mark. But then we have to own it. We have to own it. We want to become children like Jesus in order to be part of the Kingdom of the Child Christ. How do we do it? Let us learn from the gospel.
People were bringing children to Jesus so that he might touch them. Before this passage from the tenth chapter of Mark, Jesus had done a lot of touching. Touching the sick. Touching those who were oppressed by unclean spirits. He touched the bread and multiplied the bread. He touched the fish and multiplied the fish. People witnessed the touch, the power of the touch of this mysterious person named Jesus and they brought their children to be touched by him, to be blessed by him, to be protected by him. And the children have to be brought. That’s part of being a child. You need to be brought. You cannot go by yourself. You need others to carry you. But you need the touch of Jesus. You need his blessing. You need his protection. To be a child is to admit, “I need you, Jesus, and I need others to lead me to Jesus.”
Iyan po ang pagiging bata ayon sa ebanghelyo. Kahit ano pa ang gawin ninyong pagpapakulay ng buhok, hindi po iyon ang pagiging bata. Kahit ano pa po ang gawing pagbabanat-banat ng mukha, hindi iyan ang pagiging bata. Ang pagiging bata ayon sa ebanghelyo ay amining kailangan ko si Hesus. Kailangan ko ang kanyang proteksyon, ang kanyang bendisyon, ang kanyang pagpapala. At kailangan ko ang ibang tao para ako rin ay ilapit kay Hesus. Being a child is not being ashamed of my needs. And being a child is not being ashamed to turn to Jesus.
The reaction of the disciples was quite surprising. They prevented the people from bringing the children to Jesus. This is surprising because if there were a group that would have encouraged more, “Come, come”, you would have expected it is the disciples. But the disciples rebuked the people from bringing...maybe they had a good intention. Maybe they thought Jesus was already tired, they wanted him to rest. Or maybe they wanted to rest. Or we don’t know. But their reaction caused the indignation of Jesus. “Do not prevent them from coming to me for the Kingdom of God belongs to the children and unless you become like children, you will not inherit the Kingdom.” This is sad and let us be aware of the mentalities, the relationships, the false ideas that prevents us from being children. That prevent us from saying, “I need Jesus.” Let us be aware of the personal and also institutional, structures that make us believe we don’t need to go to Jesus. We have to be mature and not need others and not need anyone. This prevention of being a child, coming to Jesus for protection, for his touch, is very much present. And we need to be aware of that and we see the indignation of Jesus. Nothing should prevent the little ones from coming to him. And he embraced the children, he blessed them, he placed his hands on them.
My dear brothers and sisters, I know our world rushes even the children to become independent. We don’t want them to remain long in what we call infancy or childhood. The faster they could graduate from childhood, the better. And then when they grow up we offer them a seminar - “Healing the Inner Child”. We’re crazy! We wound the child and then offer them a seminar, “Healing the Inner Child”! Why not let the child grow as a child? Meron ngang iba ipapasok yung anak sa Nursery, two years old, aba’y gusto eh dapat marunong nang mag-English, marunong nang mag- German, marunong nang... hindi makahintay, minamadali para daw independent. This is the image of a good life, a good person, self- sufficiency, independence, autonomy. “I do not need others. And since I can do it by myself, why will I need a supreme being?” Being a child is like an insult even...even an insult to some people. Then, if that is the type of mentality that we have, to which Kingdom will we go?
In the Kingdom of Jesus who is a Child, we hear very clearly the children who need God, who need others, and who know I need to be welcome, to be brought to that Kingdom by grace and by the community. That is the greatness that we are looking for. So on this feast of the Sto. Nino, we hope that first, we Filipinos could be messengers, evangelizers of the Kingdom of the Child King. And that means spreading the spirituality of being a child, of being a Child of God. And dismantling all the illusions and the pretensions that the world presents to us, making us leave behind as something negative being childlike. And look at what’s happening? A world governed by greed violence, revenge, where childlikeness disappears. The kingdoms of this world destroy life.
When I was much younger in age. (I hope I can maintain childlikeness even though I am advanced in age.) But when I was younger in age, I remember there was this song, a beautiful song - “People”. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. We are children needing other children but letting our grown-up pride hide all the need inside. Acting more like children than children. Grown-up pride hiding all the need inside.” Acting more like children than children in other words acting more immaturely than children.
And then more recently, know this beautiful song which is very spiritual. It says. “Lately, I’ve been winning battles left and right but even winners get wounded in the fight. People say that I’m amazing, I’m strong beyond my years but they don’t see inside of me I’m hiding all the tears. They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down. They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around. I drop my sword and cry for just a while for deep inside this armor the warrior is a child.” No more pretension. The true warrior is a child and must remain a child. And then the beautiful twist. “Unafraid because His armor is the best.” (Not ‘his’ is the best.) “But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest. People say that I’m amazing I never know retreat but they don’t see the enemies that lay me at His feet.” Wow! The warrior is a child. And must remain a child. And don’t be afraid to look up, wait for a smile, you will get it. The smile of the Child Jesus. He knows how to be afraid. He knows what it means to cry. How many times he retreated to a quiet place to pray and to cry before his father? At Gethsemane, he was a child... trembling...needing the comfort of friends... but turning to his Father and his last, at his last breath he was a child. “Father, into Your hands, I commend my spirit.” That’s the Kingdom that is being offered to us. The choice is ours. Will we choose the Child, our King, and be a child like him. Or will we choose other kingdoms?