In the calendar of the Church (or in our liturgical calendar), the Christmas season concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But the Philippine Church is given special permission by Rome to somehow ‘extend’ it for another week or so with the Feast of the Sto. Niño – which we celebrate today.
The Feast we celebrate today echoes the good news of Christmas: that God, in his Son Jesus, became human like us – he became like us in everything but sin. God became like us so that we might become like God. This is what Christmas is all about; and this is also what the Feast of the Sto. Niño is all about.
What is the message of the feast we celebrate today? Jesus himself spells it out. He says in today’s gospel, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” In another gospel passage Jesus says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” If anyone wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, he or she needs to be humble, like a child.
According to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the humble one, the child, is someone who recognizes that he or she is in need of others. The humble one knows one’s incompleteness and neediness, and accepts one’s weakness and powerlessness. The humble one has shed off all pretensions of self-reliance, of self-sufficiency, of independence.
The child in the eyes of Jesus is someone who does not get embarrassed, who does not get insulted to say with joy, with conviction, “I cannot complete myself. I need someone to rely on; “I need to depend on someone greater than I.” “I need to depend on others in order to be made whole.” That is humility. That is being a child. We see this exemplified in Jesus himself. This is what we are called to be: to be humble like a child, to be humble like Jesus.
One of the illusions of our age is the illusion of being independent, self-reliant, self-made. Dependence is not considered a virtue in our contemporary age. There is a song that says, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I guess it is no longer sung these days. Why? Because these days people who need people are not the luckiest people. They are mocked, ridiculed, scorned. They are considered as nuisance or irritants.
For Jesus children are great precisely because they need God. Our greatness lies in our great need for God. We have to realize that God, through other people, through creation, completes us. And this is what makes us great.
Part of the significance of the Feast of the Santo Niño is for us to recover this important part of the life of Jesus: for us to be at home in our incompleteness, to even rejoice that we are incomplete. Why? Because of our incompleteness we have a complete need for God. God completes us in our completeness. By becoming like children, as Jesus tells us, and by being at peace with our limitation and imperfection with our weakness and helplessness, we can shed off all illusions of total independence and self-reliance, and, thus, we can trust and depend on God completely.