By FR. ROLANDO DELA ROSA
I have often wondered why the image of the Holy Child or “Santo Niño” is adorned with a crown and all the trappings of royalty and power. It doesn’t look like a child, but a miniature Christ the King.
This way of depicting the child Jesus, I learned later, originated in medieval times which, according to Philippe Ariesin in his book “Centuries of Childhood,” lacked the idea of childhood as a distinct stage in life. This explains why babies and infants are portrayed in many medieval paintings and artworks, not as children but little adults.
So how do we come up with an authentic representation and better understanding of the child Jesus?
Actually, there exist today some manuscripts, like “The Infancy Gospel of James,” “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” and the “First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ,” which provide information about His childhood. But the Church does not give credence to these so-called “gospels” because they were written about 200 years after Jesus’ death. Some of these contain obviously invented stories, sometimes presenting Jesus as a naughty, vindictive, and small superman who used his awesome powers to get what he wanted.
None of Jesus’ contemporaries wrote about His childhood because He must have lived like any ordinary child, doing things that hardly attracted attention. In today’s gospel reading, St. Luke writes: “Jesus went down to Nazareth with his parents and was subject to them. And He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51-52). Such a laconic description of His youth says very little about Him.
I would like to think that, being God, He must have spent His childhood learning what it means to be human—what makes us jump for excitement, scream in fear, or cry in our pillows at night. Vulnerable to sickness, sorrow, trials, problems, and other unwanted but necessary components of human life, He must have learned the hard way why joy cannot be appreciated without pain; why, despite our basic goodness, we commit unspeakable crimes against one another; and why forgiveness is more powerful than vengeance.
Above all, like any ordinary child, He must have played and laughed. He must have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins describes as “the dearest freshness deep down things.” He must have listened and paid attention like one who has not yet learned to limit his gaze on what is practical, functional, or useful. He must have experienced everything with a sense of wonder and reverence.
Perhaps a Santo Niñoportrayed as a simple child, not a miniature king endowed with magical powers, and paraded during Ati-atihan festivals, would-be more appealing to us. Seeing God as an ordinary child, embellished with nothing but simplicity, humility, and loving acceptance of His frail humanity, can remind us of the virtues that we give up by growing up.
Let us pray that we, who were initiated too early by the electronic media to the troubles of this world, always looking for a work to do, a problem to solve, a button to push, a video game to play, a text message to send or read, and a selfie to like or to share, may somehow learn to revive our sense of wonder and surprise; to retrieve the grandeur and dignity of being human—too real for tears, hatred, and violence to eradicate; and to recognize the image of the divine Child imprinted in our souls