Matthew 18:1-5, Feast of the Sto Niño
Even though the Christmas season ended last Sunday, we celebrate one more feast that is closely connected with Christmas: the feast of the Infant Jesus. We look at this child with tenderness. But the liturgy reminds us that this child is not just a baby. He is Jesus, whose name means Savior; he is the Christ, God’s anointed One. And yet he is also fully human.
Only seldom do I have the chance to visit the beautiful city of Cebu. But when I go there, I don’t miss to visit the Basilica of the St. Nino where I pay my respect to the old, so revered image of the child Jesus.
The image is quite different from the baby Jesus we have venerated a few weeks ago at Christmas. There the baby Jesus was naked, covered only in skimpy swaddling clothes.
In Cebu, even though a child, the Sto. Niño stands before us in the full regalia of a king. He wears a crown and royal purple. The scepter in his right hand is a symbol of power, the globe in his left hand a symbol of the universe. Before us stands the King of kings, the King of the universe.
When I visited the city of Prague with a pilgrim group, I celebrated holy Mass in the Church where the Infant of Prague is venerated – again, this image shows the Child Jesus as a king.
This image tells us a profound truth: Jesus, the divine Son of God, became fully human, he became one of us in all things but sin. Looking at the baby Jesus in the Belen, we can easily think: Ah Jesus, a small, weak, cute but harmless baby, a child we can easily manipulate.
But the baby Jesus did not remain a baby and a child, but grew up and became an adult, a powerful, often demanding preacher. This helpless baby of Bethlehem had later uncomfortable things to say, like “Love your enemies” or “He who wants to follow me must take up his cross.”
This helpless baby of Bethlehem is the same Jesus who about 30 years later was arrested, tortured and died again helplessly on a Cross.
He is the same Jesus who is here with us in this community, who speaks to us through the Gospel and who will a bit later come down here on the altar as Eucharist to enter our very lives.
He is the same Jesus who will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. He is the risen, glorified Christ who sits at the right hand of the Father who entrusted to him the fate of humankind.
And so the image of the Infant Jesus in royal robes reminds us not to become too emotional and sentimental over a cute baby but look beyond the appearance and discover the adult Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
When Pope John Paul II visited Cebu he reminded the faithful in his homily of what we just said: Jesus did not remain a child, he grew up, the Pope said. And then he continued, “In the same way, we must grow up in our faith.”
As the child Jesus grew up, so we have to grow up spiritually in our faith and prayer life. To face the trials and demands of life, we need a strong and mature faith. And since the problems we face in life will not cease or become smaller but will grow with time, so our faith must grow.
How do we grow up in our faith? Before we answer this question let us ask another question:
How do you grow up physically?
The answer is easy and obvious: By eating and drinking regularly, at least three times a day.
This gives us a hint of how we can grow up spiritually – we need regular nourishment.
And what is this nourishment?
There are the sacraments. In the sacrament of Confession we are healed from wounds and receive an injection of grace that strengthens us against all kinds of dangers.
In the Eucharist we receive double nourishment: there is first of all the Word of God that nourishes and gives us guidance for daily life. Jesus once told the devil, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”
This Word is offered in the readings and in the Gospel. And we have it at home – in the Bible.
We receive the Lord in the Eucharist. Jesus chose bread to make it so clear that even the dumbest person must understand it: In the Eucharist Jesus becomes our nourishment.
The feast and the image of the Sto. Niño, then, encourage us to grow spiritually, to trust God like a child and so mature in a faith that enables us to face whatever difficulties may lie ahead.
There is another message for us on today’s feast. The Gospel shows that Jesus loved children and took children seriously. And that makes us aware of the sad plight of many children around us and we have to ask ourselves: Do we take our children seriously enough?
Around us we see malnourished children. We meet out of school youths. There are sexually abused children, homeless and abandoned children. Many children come from dysfunctional families and cannot grow into healthy and responsible adults. Do we care enough for these children and youths around us?
It is easy to touch the image of the Sto. Niño, but more important than this is to touch one or the other child in our neighborhood with our concern and love and make it feel loved and cared for.
Pope Emeritus Benedict said in one of his Christmas homilies:
“In every child we see something of the Child of Bethlehem. Every child asks for our love.
Let us think… especially of those children who are denied the love of their parents.
Let us think of those street children who do not have the blessing of a family home, of those children who are brutally exploited as soldiers and made instruments of violence, instead of messengers of reconciliation and peace. Let us think of those children who are victims of the industry of pornography and every other appalling form of abuse, and thus are traumatized in the depths of their soul. “
The Child of Bethlehem summons us once again to do everything in our power to put an end to the suffering of these children; to do everything possible to make the light of Bethlehem touch the heart of every man and woman. Only through the conversion of hearts, only through a change in the depths of our hearts can the cause of all this evil be overcome, only thus can the power of the evil one be defeated. Only if people change will the world change; and in order to change, people need the light that comes from God, the light which so unexpectedly entered into our night.”
May the feast of the Child Jesus enlighten us and help us to become more open to the children around us and encourage us to care for them.
Image from the Internet