People were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
Becoming like a child
The Feast of the Sto. Niño is at the center of the celebration of the 500 years of Christianization of the Philippines this year 2021. After all, the devotion in the Philippines is attached to the image that Magellan gave to the wife of Rajah Humabon. After five centuries, it is difficult to find a Filipino who does not possess a statue or image of the Holy Child. The devotion is often referred to as “folk religiosity” because it is the common people, not the priests or theologians, who decide how this devotion is manifested and practiced. Pope Francis, however, notes that popular piety is “a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionary” (Evangelii Gaudium, 124).
There are people who say that Filipinos do not mature in their Christian life because they are so attached to the Sto. Niño. Quite often, the devotees pattern the icon of the Sto. Niño after their “image and likeness”; it becomes an alter ego of the owner of the image or statue. Firemen decorate their office with the Sto. Niño dressed in firemen uniform; the owner of a bus company, the drivers, and mechanics have their Sto. Niño dressed like a bus driver, etc. One cannot but smile at this “childish” way of expressing one’s devotion.
But many more are the defenders of this “folk religiosity” where people easily express their sentiments, which otherwise do not have a place in official Church liturgy. This popular devotion certainly needs purification. But one does not throw the baby along with the water after one has bathed the child.
Still, we are reminded by Jesus’ declaration in today’s Gospel: “The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these [children]. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” To be “like a child” does not mean that we remain as children, and that we refuse to act like adults. In that case, we can easily fall victims to adult machinations. What Jesus means by the expression is for a person to remain humble—to refuse to run after money, power, and influence at any cost, especially if these are used to do harm to others.
Those who humble themselves will be raised up by God. On this the spirituality of saints who are loved by the faithful depends. St. Francis of Assisi, in particular, has a special influence on the devotion to the Holy Child. The saint is known for his childlike [not childish] ways. He would preach even to the birds and animals. In 1223, he made a crèche or tableau of the Nativity scene where he placed the Baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi, and the angel. He even added animals and birds. He patterned his life after the poverty and meekness of Jesus. He is considered as “the sweetest Christ on earth.”
SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord 2021,” ST. PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 632-895-9701; Fax 632-895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.