The devotion to Sto. Niño is something that never ceases to mesmerize me. I am a Cebuano and I live less than a kilometer from the Basilica which I frequented every Friday since I was a child. The phenomenal number of devotees who regularly fill the shrine especially during fiestas may provide some answer as to why Christianity is still alive in our country today despite the heavy onslaught of secularism and materialism.
The lively cult of the Sto. Niño manifests an extraordinary faith which may be raw, hence easily vulnerable to superstition and fanaticism (which reminds us of PCPII’s call for a renewed integral evangelization). Yes, our people’s faith may be raw, but it is certainly deep for it touches the very core of the Filipino soul. It is a faith that moves the devotee to give himself in total surrender to the Holy Child. It is a radical faith, perhaps to a fault since it can also lead to fatalism. But more importantly, it is an authentic faith, the kind of faith which Jesus asks in today’s gospel.
“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 like a child will not enter it.”
What does it mean to be like a child? Does it mean to be innocent? Perhaps not, otherwise none of us could enter heaven. (Many of us have lost our innocence long ago.) More than being innocent, being childlike here refers to being humble and trusting. A child knows that he is utterly helpless and totally dependent on his parents for his needs, and so he puts all his trust in them. In the same way, we place our trust in God and surrender ourselves completely to him, knowing that “without him, we can do nothing.” (Jn 15:3)
True devotion to the Sto. Niño then consists in surrendering ourselves to Christ, in allowing this Child-King to rule over us. What an irony! Are we to entrust our life to this Child who is himself weak and helpless?
In one of his Christmas homilies, Pope Benedict gave a beautiful reflection on why the Infinite God reduced himself to become a child. God made himself small so we can hold him. He turned himself into a child, frail and fragile, so he can surrender himself into our hands. Such is God’s ineffable love for us!
Here we see that even before asking us to surrender to him, God had already surrendered himself to us. If he dares entrust himself in our hands, how can we not entrust ourselves in his?
The first reading vividly depicts our scary situation today. We can say that we are now “the people who [walk] in darkness… and [live] in a land of gloom.” Who is not scared at the prospect of an apocalyptic future if the accelerating global warming/boiling is not arrested? Who is not frustrated with the increasing and ever-escalating wars that undermine world peace? Without going too far, who is not disturbed by the perennial itch to tamper with the constitutions? The darkness that covers us is truly overwhelming and seemingly invincible. Thus, we cannot but be hopeful and consoled when we listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone… For a child is born for us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulders dominion rests.”
And in another passage, the same prophet gives us assurance. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Is 54:10)
Yes, the Sto. Niño may be small. His hands may be tiny, but they are mighty. As an old Negro spiritual goes, “He’s got the whole world in his hands… He’s got you and me brother/sister in his hands.”