Sometimes when we look at our religious celebrations we get the impression that we as a people seem to be very ritualistic and even fanatics. But, on deeper examinations, we find in these feasts the expressions of our deep faith nurtured through our history and culture as a nation by God’s invisible hand. A perfect example is today’s Feast of the Sto. Nino celebrated every third Sunday of January that is proper only to our country in recognition of the important role played by the image of the Child Jesus in our Christianization almost 500 years ago. All the readings and prayers of today’s Mass are taken from Christmas Season even if we are already in the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time because the Sto. Nino is an extension of Christmas. Recall also that two weeks ago right after the Epiphany of the Lord we have celebrated the Traslacion in Quiapo featuring the adult Jesus Christ carrying the Cross more known as the Black Nazarene. They are the two most popular Christ devotions in our country that every region and province, town and barrio up to the smallest sitio has its own version of celebrating Traslacion and/or Sto. Nino. In both devotions we find the finest examples of our vibrant faith in Jesus Christ who became like us in everything except sin in order to save us, heal us, and bring us closer with one another as one big family with God as our Father. And in both devotions too, Christ calls us to continue living into our adulthood as God’s little children like Him the Sto. Nino and the Black Nazarene.
After three days of searching, Mary and Joseph found the 12 year-old child Jesus at the Temple and he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man (Lk. 2:51-52).
From His childhood into His adulthood, Jesus remained a child of His heavenly Father and of His parents Mary and Joseph. In this scene on His finding at the temple, we again see the centrality of Christ’s teaching of remaining like a child in order to belong to the kingdom of heaven. And it was not only Him who showed it in this short account by St. Luke but also Mary and Joseph who “both did not understand” what Jesus had told them but still took care of Him very well as “He advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Here we find the importance of love in remaining children of God as shown by the deep love among the members of the Holy Family that is rooted in the Father’s love. Notice how in this age of so much advancement in technologies that we have become more technical than personal, love has also suffered so greatly. It is not only abused and misused but most of all, misunderstood. Love has become a commodity that people think could be had simply and instantly like anything in a store or a vending machine, forgetting that love is more than a feeling but a decision we must keep. Most of all, love is a choice we make by choosing what is most painful and most difficult because true love is found only on the Cross of Christ.
This is what I am telling you at the beginning, the seemingly funny or weird flow of our celebrations after Christmas: Traslacion and then Sto. Nino that are both anchored on love of God that did not merely happen in Christ’s birth and coming but most of all in His suffering and death on the Cross. Love is often symbolized by the heart but its total meaning can only be found in the great sign of the Cross where we can find the perfect expression of Christian “childlikeness” and Christian maturity. Recall how Jesus on the Cross remained a child of the Father to whom He entrusted His total self while at the same time remained faithful to His mission, resolutely going to Jerusalem to face His fate as a matured adult. That is love when we can be tender and docile to our beloved and at the same time stand our ground to keep our promise, no matter what or how painful it could be. It is a love until the end that is always willing to share and give, never thinking of anything in return.
To be able to love like a child and remain loving as a matured adult like Jesus Christ, we need to always live in the present moment. God revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO AM” while in the gospels particularly in John’s, we find Jesus always declaring the great “I AM” as the Resurrection and life, the way, the truth and the life, as well as the good shepherd and the true vine. God is love because He is always in the here and now, the present, not in the past and not in the future. See how a child always has a time to take time as it comes, one day at a time, so calmly without advance planning and thinking or greedy hoarding of time. Unlike us adults, we need planners and schedules to follow, finding or making time like a sausage to be sliced into portions to be eaten at a desired time. Kids always live in the fullness of time like a cup of milk or water that has everything that for them, any time is a time to sleep, a time to eat, a time to play. And that is why they love all the time! We adults are so pressured and stressed that even in loving others and especially God, we always bargain with time as if it can be done. We love to postpone time because we are not yet ready, even refusing to move on as we dwell with our painful past. Remember the warning of Jesus that nobody knows the time when He shall come that we must always be on guard and ready for that time by always loving God and others all the time. Recall our quotation last week that says, “For people who rush, time is fast; for people who wait, time is slow; but, for people who love, time is not.” A child of God lives in the present because he knows, like Jesus Christ, every moment is the fullness of time we must receive with gratitude because in every present moment we have everything. This is totally different from the young people’s concept of “YOLO” that is actually about living in the future now being advanced without realizing the beautiful present moment.
To be a child of God like the Senor Sto. Nino is to walk in the “great light” of Christ, our “Wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, and Prince of Peace” (Is.9:1,5) who calls us to love every moment of our lives by living in the present. May Jesus “enlighten the eyes of our hearts that we may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones” (Eph.1:18). AMEN. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo is a painting of Sto. Nino devotees by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas. Used with permission.