Catholic Homily/Sunday Reflection
Feast of the Santo Niño (C)
January 17, 2010

N.B. The following reflection is valid only for the Philippines where the Feast of the Holy Child (el Santo Nino) is celebrated every third Sunday of January.

This year’s feast of the Santo Niño finds the whole Philippines once more caught up in a frenzy, as much of dancing and celebration in honor of the Child Jesus, as of a lot of political posturing, positioning, and an ongoing realignment of forces and the forging of new alliances in preparation for the forthcoming national elections.

We are back once more to the Philippines’ much awaited event that comes our way every three years.

As expected, this year’s elections promises to be “star-studded” in all senses of the term, as TV and movie “stars” cross over from the “make-believe” world of entertainment to one that is not any less detached from reality – the world of Philippine politics. As things are going this early in the race, politics Philippine style, now seems irreversibly tied up to the business of entertainment. The unwritten rules of the game seem to be dictated not by great and noble visions, brilliant rhetoric and far-reaching, forward-moving platforms, but by popularity, name recall, and utmost media exposure where the distinctions between what is real and what is fictional become an absolute blur. Wait … there is yet another extreme factor … the billions of pesos in the war chest of at least one aspirant for the highest office in the land, who keeps on talking about free college education, while throwing away billions for his media blitz and maximum manipulation through sound bytes and brilliant images.

Growth and progress towards maturity are not among the words one can equate with the path that politics in the Philippines has traversed ever since we gained independence and self-rule. From a figurative budding and hopeful young adult raring to catapult itself and carve out a niche for itself in the international family of nations, it has become more like a helpless child, cute and chubby, but quite helpless and close to being ineffectual, and to not being taken seriously by the family of nations who have gone far ahead in the path towards progress and political maturity.

We Filipinos sure love children. We spend a whole lot of time being with them, playing with them, cuddling and caring for them, being entertained by them, etc. Small wonder the image of the Child Jesus has captured the attention - and the undeniable devotion, of millions of Filipinos.

But let us take a close look at our devotion to the Child Jesus and allow it to give some insight into how this could help us in our search for growth and maturity as Filipinos and as Christians.

I take my cue from the fact that this historical child eventually “grew in age and in wisdom” before God and men. The boy Jesus grew up to be, first, the pre-teener who “went about his father’s business” and discussed “grown-up issues” with the wise (older) men in the temple. We see a growing young man who was willing to leave the comfort zone in close proximity of his parents in order to do a “trial run” of the mission that was gradually becoming clear in his consciousness. This boy Jesus eventually became the fully grown man who offered his life in obedience to his Father’s will at Gethsemani and Calvary. This is the same Jesus who, when he submitted himself to be baptized by his precursor John the Baptist, was “blessed” and affirmed by no less than God the Father: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The Father’s “taking delight” in His Son capped a lengthy and gradual process of growth, maturity, and the gradual attainment of consciousness of his identity and mission as both God and man. The Father’s blessing catapulted and inaugurated the fully grown man that Jesus was when he started his public life.

Like I shared in the past two reflections, we cannot underestimate the power of the biblical concept of “blessing.” We cannot underestimate the power of the spoken word, especially God’s word!

This is where I suggest we as a people can take a clue or two from today’s feast. First, even as Jesus “grew in age and wisdom,” our Filipino Catholic faith needs to grow from a mere ritual-based (at times bordering on the fanatic and the superstitious) and mere intellective faith to a more fiduciary (personal and affective) and performative (that is, effective), faith that embraces and includes more civic, social and political responsibility. For far too long in our history, we have gotten by with a model of faith that is mostly individualistic and privatistic, one that allows us to separate politics, business, leisure and other aspects of our personal and social lives from the moral demands of the Gospel. This privatistic faith has been the long-standing reason why mistakenly in the past, the Church has been accused of “playing politics” when she preaches and teaches as she ought to, about responsible voting and about social justice. We pastors and priests humbly acknowledge the institutional Church’s dismal failure of evangelization over the past recent decades that is behind the piling social-moral problems that plague our perilously fractious and fragmented nation.

On a more optimistic note, a second point for our reflection on today’s feast has to do with the need for all of us Filipinos to “take delight” in one another. For far too long, we have bashed ourselves raw as a people. We have highlighted far too much all the negative elements and traits that characterize us. Owing to our long history of subjugation and colonization, I believe together with other analysts, that we have a collective problem of identity and self-esteem as a people. Without in any way resorting to blame at this point, the undeniable fact is that after centuries of being under colonial masters, we have lost much of what we otherwise could be taking healthy pride in. We do not even have a passable common language. We are now even losing English, as decades ago we lost Spanish. We are now left only with Taglish, and if the trend is not stopped, we will soon be the Pidgin English capital of the world.

The time has come for us to take responsibility for our future, for our growth and for our development as a nation and people. Now is the time for all of us to take delight in ourselves, to “bless” and affirm one another. In imitation of the boy Jesus, ours now is the task to “be about the Father’s business.” Ours now is the responsibility to rely no longer on whoever sits in Malacanan, in the Legislative or executive branches of government whether national or local, but on ourselves, on good old “people power.” The Holy Father offers an important word for this collective power used for the common good: solidarity.

Solidarity in the good is what “taking delight” in one another is all about. Solidarity in the name of good is the opposite of “sinful solidarity.” Figuratively and literally rolling up our sleeves and joining hands to do what needs to be done is what “blessing” and affirming one another really means for me. Given the abysmal failure of governments past and present to deliver that which the teeming (and increasing) masses of the poor in our society need, the only viable alternative is exactly the path of solidarity that the Pope has been championing since Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1988).

We need to “take delight” in the average Filipino. We need to believe in his/her capacity to “grow in age and wisdom” before God and the international society. But even as we profess willingness to bless and affirm one another, we need to allow our faith to take center stage in our lives and allow it to lead us toward more concrete and palpable acts of solidarity as a sign of a mature social responsibility.

I would like to end by quoting a prayer by the Biblical professor and writer Walter Brueggemann: “There is a time to be born, and it is now.”

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
God of all our years,
God of our beginning.
Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
For those of us too much into obedience,
birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
For those too much into self-indulgence,
birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
For those too much into cynicism,
birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
For those of us too much into cowardice,
birth us to the courage to stand before principalities and powers.
For those of us too much into guilt,
birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
For those of us too much into despair,
birth us into the promises you make to your people.
For those of us too much into control,
birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
For those of us too much into victimization,
birth us into the power of Easter.
For those of us too much into fatigue,
birth us into the energy of Pentecost.
We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
what is needful for newness.
Give us the power to be receptive,
to take the newness you give,
to move from womb warmth to real life.
We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
for our school at the brink of birth,
for the church at the edge of life,
for our city waiting for newness,
for your whole creation, with which we yearn in eager longing.
There is a time to be born, and it is now.
We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
Come here now in the name of Jesus. Amen.