Second Sunday in Ordinary Time(A) / Feast of the Santo Nino (Philippines)
January 16, 2011

Readings: Is 49:3,5-6 / 1Cor 1:1-3 / Jn 1:29-34 (2nd Sunday)
or Is 9:1-6 / Eph 1:3-6,15-18 / Mt 18:1-5,10 (Feast of the Santo Nino)

I write from atop my perch over at Maloloj, at the Archdiocesan Retreat House of Guam. Working during the break from the proceedings of the clergy convocation, I find myself experiencing writer’s block, feeling myself totally devoid of all inspiration, inside my aircon-less room in the hot sultry Guam weather at its worst in early afternoon.

My attention is occasionally captured by the placid sea just a couple of hundred feet from my window, out into the open Pacific, where storms that hit the Philippines or go to the northwesterly direction, are spawned. The sea reminds me of the vastness not only of creation but the vastness of the mission that we members of the clergy are indirectly talking about, even if it were not the primary agendum of the convocation.

Isaiah speaks of God’s dream. He writes about His vision of a servant, who would work so that Israel might be brought back and gathered once more to Him. He pines for restoration. He refers to survivors, and he conjures up images of a “light to the nations,” all for the focused goal and end – that His salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.”

The whole Catholic world has now set its sights to some other aspect of the mystery of salvation, although in the Philippines, Catholics enjoy some kind of a last hurrah for the Christmas mystery, celebrating as they do, the feast of the Holy Child, the Santo Nino. In a peculiar twist of the power of culture to influence even the most logical theological and liturgical principles, the Philippines celebrated in several places, last Sunday, not the Baptism of the Lord, but the feast of the Black Nazarene. Illogical ... Unsound liturgically speaking ... and perhaps to some quarters, even theologically bizarre!

But in the long run, we celebrate a God of wonders, a God of multi-faceted mystery ... a God who wrought for us, one and only one dream – our salvation! This is the overweening focus of God. This is the overriding dream of one whose sole desire, right from the moment Adam and Eve lost their bearings, is so that His “salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.”

This dream led Him to choose men to accomplish this goal. Isaiah refers to the servant, a mysterious figure that was gradually revealed to be the Son whose birth we celebrated last Christmas, whose childhood is now celebrated with so much fanfare all over the Philippines. This is the same dream brought to partial realization in and through Paul the Apostle, who now writes to the recalcitrant Corinthians, the object of his predilection.

The dream is the same one made possible by John the Baptist, ever the best supporting actor of sorts, who did his bit role, but whose effects still ripple greatly in the life of the Church, and the trajectory of the history of salvation.

His job was to point to and make known the promised Servant of Yahweh; his task to make Him increase, and to make himself decrease. His mission was to lay down the groundwork so that the mission of the Messiah is given a headstart, much like the excited throngs in the Philippines who carry the statue of the Santo Nino, as if to make him known to the world as the Son ... Yes ... and Savior of the world, even in the humility and weakness of his childhood. This is much like the millions of Filipinos (admittedly with a good number of them bordering on the fanatic), who claim the power of salvation from a weak and bloodied and humiliated Black Nazarene!

But today, we must take the cue from John the Baptist. He knew whom he prepared for. He knew whom he served. The Servant of all, the would be suffering Servant of Yahweh, is now proclaimed by him: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

Devotees of the Santo Nino in the Philippines need to go beyond fanfare. Fanatic hordes of Filipinos who risk life and limb by joining the 17-hour procession, who suffer hunger and thirst just to touch the rope and get near the statue, need to go beyond shallow fanaticism bordering, too, on the superstitious, and proclaim a God of wonders, a God of mystery, whose power and mission is revealed in weakness, in suffering, in humility, and simplicity as a child, as suffering servant, par excellence, bruised and bloodied while carrying the cross.

We need to do a John the Baptist. More than joining hordes of people in a frenzy of devotion, he quietly proclaimed. He quietly acclaimed the one who is to come. And after pointing out to people who the much awaited one is, he quietly receded into anonymity, even to the ultimate anonymity of death by martyrdom. “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.”

In the end, whatever it is we celebrate today, the feast of the Santo Nino, the 2nd Sunday of ordinary time, or basking yet in the afterglow (or hangover) of a frenzied celebration in Quiapo, Manila of the Black Nazarene (and in several other places now in the Philippines), what really matters is whether we know Him who was proclaimed by John, whether we are close to Him who was acclaimed by the masses as the awaited Savior, even in the lowliness of his childhood (Santo Nino). What in the end matters is whether what the Suffering Servant, the Black Nazarene, suffered and died – and lived – for, bears fruit now in a people who go beyond emotion and practice true devotion; who go beyond fanaticism, and live in such a way that His salvation reaches to the ends of the earth.

It was God’s dream. It was the servant’s mission. It was the mission, too, of Paul, of John the Baptist. And it is now our mission. As I end this reflection to join the rest of my brother clergymen of Guam for the afternoon session of the day, I cast one last glance at the placid and vast ocean, out to the boundless east, and am reminded that God’s dream is now our mission – that his salvation might reach to the ends of the earth, beginning here on our little island, on our little flocks, on our little and big concerns.