A feast proper to the Philippines is our celebration of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January. Jesus as a little child images to us divine love for the little ones (Mark 10:13-16). As a child is a promise for tomorrow and an opportunity for today, the Santo Niño is a challenge for us now as well as a glimpse of our future.
Children as the measure
The words of Jesus that “the kingdom of God belongs to such” as the little children must challenge us to reflect why so. The quality of children here highlighted is that of dependence and obedience. It is not the denial of freedom and responsibility that is meant here by child-like dependence, but the truth of one’s limitedness and the appropriate readiness to accept and trust the loving care of God. It is freedom truly appreciated as only human but summoned to a transcendent fullness in God. Fatal anywhere is the proud blindness to one’s human imperfections and shortcomings, and the absurd refusal of all outside assistance and guidance.
The incarnate Son of God as the Santo Niño, like a snap-shot of that all-too-fleeting period of human childhood, reveals to us the depth of the Son’s willingness to obey his Father’s will to identify with us and be there for us. In the utter dependency of a child, in the littleness of a small boy, Jesus personally showed us a measure of our true relationship with God. He has begun God’s kingdom on Earth because he was even as a child already the proclamation of humankind’s need to confess dependence on God and to live in obedience to the divine wisdom. The reign of God obtains among those who accept that humanity needs saving and who listen to God’s word for the way to eternal life. “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Children as already saved
Precisely as children who are open to God’s grace and as yet incapable of the abuse of human freedom, little children likewise illustrate for us the nature of the salvation already made available to us in Jesus Christ. It is a gift, not bought nor merited, solely offered and humbly to be accepted. Throughout history, children are variously considered as worthless because workless or without accomplishments. Such a viewpoint fails to consider that in God’s design what really matters is not what we can do on our own, but what God shares with us. Where God’s action is primary, little children especially picture to us divine goodness.
Little children are part of the humanity already saved by Jesus Christ and as not corrupted yet by the sinful use of human freedom. There is no need to consign them to some limbo when they die prematurely without the sacrament of baptism; such a construct would manifest more our lack of appreciation of God’s saving love as well as our neglect of the innate dignity of children. Jesus was literally angry with those who would turn little children away from him; little children in his arms would be more correct to presume. The little ones represent God’s presence in the world; what is done to them is done to Jesus. Abuse of children is an act of desecration. One is rightly horrified by the current and widespread violations of the dignity and rights of children.
Alálaong bagá, we are actually in a direct contact with the mystery of God’s saving love for humankind, when we uphold our community to be characterized by respect and loving care for little children, particularly as parents and teachers. Anytime and anywhere, the little ones are an incarnation of divine grace. The love we pour upon them is sanctifying, just as any abuse of them is despicable and downright condemnable. Our feast of the Santo Niño, beyond the sights and sounds of the festivities, must picture to us God’s irrevocable commitment for our salvation and our proper response of filial fidelity to our heavenly Father.
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