Matthew 18:1-5, Feast of the Sto Niño
Like many of you, I flew home to Davao for a few days during the holidays to spend time with my dad. I hadn’t done that for a long time, to be with family for my birthday. My biggest thanks to God was that even as I turned 51, dad was still around. At 51, you’d feel that more than half your life was over. But imagine my 80-year-old father who still works at a law office everyday. But unlike before, dad is now more and more dependent on my family—from reminding him to take his medicines, to helping him buy his toiletries, from driving him to the doctor, to making sure he eats well. These days, my brothers are hunting for a baston for him, because dad has been tripping more and more these past months. And you and I know that it takes just one bad fall…. At my birthday dinner, I looked at my father from across the table and I could hardly believe that once upon a time, I was the one who was totally dependent on him & mom for everything. For a whole stretch of my life, I was dependent on them for everything; from being fed and changed and medicated, to being taught how to pray, or set straight by scolding, or made to feel important by hugging, etc; totally dependent…for everything.
When I flew back to Manila last Sunday, typhoon Auring was making her entrance through Hinatuan. I knew that the plane was going to have to fly through that storm, and I felt sick to my stomach hours before my flight and during it. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding planes. But I’ve been through the worst turbulence and it ain’t fun, not especially during a typhoon. So I said the rosary all the way for this one, from takeoff to landing! Because do you ever realize that once they close the door of that aircraft, and once that beast gets off the ground, all 401,000 lbs of the darn thing, your survival becomes totally, unequivocally, unmistakably dependent on God? Ever realize that?
My dear sisters and brothers, you and I know what it means, what it feels, what it takes to be absolutely dependent on another person and on God for everything. We just don’t think about it all the time because in most cases, we outgrow our dependence on our very first life-givers, our parents…as we should. In fact, I believe that for the most part, we were all created to be healthily independent as we mature. That’s why we find it strange, for example, when a healthy, able-bodied man in his 40s still lives with his parents and mooches off their retirement with nothing to show for it. I know, there’s one in most families, isn’t there? But no; we were created to be relatively independent, self-determining, self-sufficient beings.
However, no matter how independent, self-determining, and self-sufficient we are at any point in our lives, we never outgrow our total dependence on God. We never really “get off the God airplane,” so to speak. But many of us become quite forgetful of that very crucial and ultimate Christian truth: that no matter how successful in life we are, we remain totally, unequivocally, unmistakably dependent on God for everything, and always. We forget that. And I’ve seen that how this “forgetfulness” could degenerate into “delusion” when people start having either oodles of money or a great deal of power—or both. We are deluded into believing that we need nobody and nothing else for our survival, our well-being, our success—but ourselves. And for me, that is idolatry of the worst kind: the idolatry of the ego. Incidentally, I heard lately that someone is mulling over creating a church of himself, an “iglesia” of himself. Haay, didn’t it seem only yesterday when someone resolved to not be “king”? What happened? Idolatry of the ego: forgetfulness of one’s total dependence on God worsening into the delusion from unbridled self-sufficiency.
Talking about idolatry, to western Catholic sensibilities, our devotion to the Santo Niño borders on the idolatrous. But that’s because they don’t get it. They don’t understand the festive, vigorous devotion we have to a “Christ-child”. I that’s because they have a difficulty reckoning with the deep theological reality that our Messiah, this Savior, our Word-made-flesh, this God we worship—was once upon a time totally dependent on humanity, the very humanity that he was going to save as its Messiah. Can you imagine that? Whenever we pray to the Christ-child, it’s not because we don’t believe he ever grew up. It’s not because there’s a Jesus who’s an infant and there’s an adult Jesus to fit our needs. No.
We gaze at the Santo Niño and we remember that the Messiah was once totally dependent on the people who loved him for survival. Can you imagine that? So, because he knows what it means to be totally dependent on people who loved him, how can our Christ not love us ever so deeply, every so devotedly—when he knows more than anything else that ultimately, we have only him for our everything? Kung alam na alam mo, na ang ikinabubuhay at ikamamatay ng isang tao ay ikaw at ikaw lamang, kung hindi bato ang puso mo, hindi ba’t higit mo pa siyang mamahalin, aarugain, at aalagaan?
We love the Santo Niño because whether we’re aware of it or not, we see, in the Christ-child, ourselves, in our total dependence on God for everything. On the other hand, we also hope and pray that when our Lord looks at us in our total dependence on him, that we remind him of himself, that he sees in us, himself.
My dear sisters & brothers, in God’s loving eyes, we will always be children, his niñas and niños. Kung tutuusin, God has no need of us. But, see, that’s just the most wonderful thing. God loves us that much more deeply because he knows that from the beginning to the end, we have only him to depend on for everything and for always. And God gets it, he gets what it is to be that way, to be totally dependent. After all, he himself was, once upon a time, a child.
Image by Mark Dean Lim; hand coloring started by Patty Tan and finished by me.