Mark 10:13-16, Feast of the Santo Niño
On the first week of the new year, I went home to Davao to visit with my dad for a week. One day, I decided to walk from the Jesuit Residence to San Pedro Cathedral. My mom used to love hearing mass there. The church is a good walk, around 2.5-3km from the JR. So walk I did, one Sunday afternoon, to catch the 5:30pm Cebuano mass. Just five minutes into my walk, a little girl, about 1/3 of my height, broke into my direction, walking a few paces in front of me. From the way the little girl walked—which was really more of an “advanced toddle”—she must have been around four years old. She was in rags too, so easily a street urchin, but cute as button like all kids her age—curly hair, fat cheeks, feet like little pandesals! And my God, she was going at a good clip, because as I kept my pace, I wasn’t gaining on her. Ten minutes in, the little girl was still walking, no sign of stopping or turning back; no sign of anyone coming to meet her. So it struck me silly to realize this child was really alone! And she and I were the only ones going my direction at the time. Or maybe I didn’t notice the others because I was busy being roped in to watch over the little girl. Another ten minutes in, she was still walking. For a four-year-old, that’s a pretty long time and a pretty long way. I very strongly felt the urge to catch up with her and assume full responsibility, but I didn’t, because I was so curious to find out (a) where she was headed all by her lonesome, and (b) why there wasn’t a hint of “lost-ness” or fear or panic in her at all. On the contrary, she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing and where she was headed. “Still,” said my superego, “she’s just a four-year-old kid, are you blind?” Before I knew it, she had gone off the sidewalk, crossed the street, and disappeared into a crowd on the other side. Minutes later, I couldn’t concentrate on the mass. I swore I’d probably have never lived it down if news the next day said “Four-year-old girl found dead on C.M. Recto St.”
When you see a child—especially one who “looks” alone, or “seems” alone—the first question in your head is: “Sinong magulang ng batang ito?” Why? Because if we think “sea” & immediately think “water”, if we think “desert” and immediately think “dry”, if we think “breathe” and immediately think “air”—when we think and see a child, we immediately think relationship, relatedness. That’s why there’s nothing sadder than an orphaned child, or a foundling. Deep in all human hearts, a child must never be alone. A child immediately calls forth relationship, relatedness, connection.
This is the first reason why I think the feast of the Santo Niño is important in our faith, sisters and brothers. The Santo Niño is the “infant-God,” the “child-God” who reminds us of a permanent and unshakable character of God which we often forget or take for granted: that, immediately and once and for all, God is related to us, immediately and once and for all, connected to us, in a relationship with us, as his free choice, out of his free love. I wish to emphasize this, dear sisters and brothers, because many of us do not often think of God as, immediately and once and for all related to us, in a relationship with us, loving us. Our default is often an image of God “above” us, isolated in all his power, like a benevolent overlord, a patient prefect of discipline, a quiet moral policeman—all of which are “official” terms but hardly relational terms. That’s why we need the feast of the Santo Niño, and quite desperately so. It’s the infant-God’s way of reminding us who he is in his very essence: a God who is freely, immediately, and once and for all, related to us, connected to us, in a relationship with us. If we take that seriously, it should make many of us turn a corner in our faith and religiosity. And just like it’s unnerving to see a four-year-old child walking alone, it should unnerve us if we’ve always believed that God, to be God, should be asunder from us. Because, you and I know that he never is. No, not even when we sin. God never disconnects even if we do.
You’ve also heard it said many times that the Christ-child reminds us of how deeply, vulnerably human Jesus was. Allow me to add a little something to that. When I saw the vulnerable little girl that Sunday afternoon, she made me feel vulnerable. Even if she and I were not related in any way, shape, or form—her being just a child on a sidewalk straightaway roped me in, to assume some way, shape, or form of responsibility over her. Unbeknownst to her, she committed me to a very basic connection, a fundamental responsibility. Suddenly, I was disturbed by the challenge to care, to go beyond my comfort zone, to change direction; all of which I did not do that afternoon, because, shame on me, I was “running late”, headed on a straight path to, of all places, church.
That’s the second reason I realized why the feast of the Santo Niño is important to us, dear sisters and brothers. Not only is an “infant-God”, immediately and once and for all related to us—that relationship must make us feel vulnerable enough so that we do our part in it: to assume responsibility over it, to care for even the most fundamental connection, to push beyond our comfort zones or even change direction if needed…and in my case, vulnerable enough to feel deeply terrible if we don’t, to remain disturbed, then empty. But see, even if God is lost to us thanks to our negligence, we are never lost to God. I guess that’s what will always be the infant-like in our God: in all his power and glory, God begs us to always have him within our caring distance, where we can see him, where we can be close enough to run to him…so that we may never be lost.
*image from the Internet