FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Feast of the Holy Child Jesus (B)
Isaiah 9:1-6 | Psalm 98: 1-5 | Ephesians 1:3-6.15-18 | Mark 10:13-16
Being a nation where children comprise 31% of the population (about 34 million of the total 109 million), Filipinos are known for their love of children. When we see children, we are happy. A child is welcoming, comforting and non-threatening. Its power is in its weakness. Its force is its
love. It comes as no surprise that we have a long-standing and widespread devotion to Holy Child Jesus after the first image of El Santo Niño Jesus was brought to Cebu and given as a baptismal gift to Rajah Humabon’s wife by Fernando Magallanes 500 years ago. For Filipino Catholics the Holy Child represents a God who is a source of great joy; a God who is accessible to all and can be approached without fear. One can easily notice an image or icon of the Sto. Niño displayed in family altars of homes, schools, offices, community stores and even inside jeepneys.
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In the summer of 1741, 56-year old German master composer George Frideric Handel was at the lowest point of his musical career. He was suffering from poor health following a stroke and was struggling to make ends meet. He wanted to do something different than his previous works, and had been reading much from the Bible. Captured by the Scriptures, he set to work writing music that matched the glory and meaning of the very biblical text of our First Reading today. Twenty-four days later, he has completed "The Messiah", the most famous oratorio ever written. We all know the majesty and triumph of The Hallelujah Chorus that concludes this masterwork. "Hallellujah! Hallelujah!" Don't make me sing for you, please. But you should know that the twelfth song of the first movement captures the exuberant, skipping joy of Isaiah 9:1-6.
The people of Israel were facing a threat from the growing superpower of Assyria which would eventually destroy the northern kingdom of Israel and lead many Jews into captivity. Isaiah addressed this situation by promising the coming of a future King. He prophesied that God will never abandon or leave them in deepest darkness. The light will come as a Holy Child who is a Governor, Counselor, God, and Prince of Peace. Isaiah prophesied that the Child who will be born to us will be great. This Child is not an ordinary child. He is not a weakling but a strong leader. He will liberate the people of Israel from oppressive rule and is destined to establish a kingdom of justice and peace.
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The Child Jesus did not remain a child. In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul, talks about Jesus, not anymore as a little child but a grown up holy man. All favors are given to us through Jesus Christ. He is God's means of dealing with us in effecting his love and salvation and in gifting us with many graces. The Son of God became man to make all men — Gentile or Jew, servant or free, women or men — children of God. According to Saint Paul, our vocation as children of God is to be holy and blameless before the Father. As children, we both have good and bad qualities. On the one hand, childish behavior is not so attractive. It connotes immaturity, silliness, and foolishness. We dutifully try to eliminate these unpleasant qualities through constant teaching and correction. On the other extreme, a childlike demeanor denotes obedience, innocence and humility. When children are demonstrating childlike qualities, we find them endearing and lovable. It is God’s will that although, we grow in age, our values should remain childlike. We must remain like children — niños or niñas — before the eyes of God. We feed either childishness or childlikeness through our actions. So let’s ask ourselves the question, “Am I childish or childlike?”
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Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604 and considered the founder of the medieval papacy, saw some beautiful English children being sold as slaves in the market of Rome. Intrigued by their appearance, he asked to know who they were. The reply was that they were Angles. Pope Gregory responded, “Not Angles but angels!” This experience became the driving force for the Gregorian Mission, which aimed to convert the then-pagan Anglo-Saxons in England to Christianity in the sixth century.
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Our Gospel begins with a tender scene: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them”. It was a very ancient tradition in Israel to have a rabbi or synagogue leader bless the children, even little infants. They must have believed that there was something in the person of rock star Jesus that would bless their children. They knew of the power, both physical and spiritual, which came from Jesus' touch. In both words and actions the importance of bringing children to the Son of God was emphasized by our Lord. We as parents can sometimes be so busy providing for our family, we have the tendency to neglect what is most important for our family, specifically, bringing our children to Jesus Christ. One of the characteristics of a Catholic Christian home is that it is a worshipping unit. Saying grace each meal is a constant reminder of our dependence. The Rosary draws the family around Mama Mary and Jesus Christ who never abandon them. Attending Holy Mass gives special opportunities for worship together. A small child will look forward to a Sunday morning treat of being able to sit in his parents’ bed listening to a Bible story or Lives of Saints. The afternoon can give opportunity for learning his Bible text, or for coloring his Bible story book, or in the case of an older child writing a How-To-Be-A-Good-Person essay. Children who are not being exposed to the church don’t have the benefit of knowing God’s presence in their lives, of being able to rely on a power greater than themselves. When we fail in this crucial assignment, society quickly declines. If we do not point the children to Christ, their self-image and world outlook are basically secular. We may completely lose them to the world.
There was once an ambassador who was recalled after he insulted his host country. He had acted poorly, and it was seen as reflecting the attitude of the president of the Philippines. It was a difficult day for that ambassador when he stood in front of the chief executive to hear him say, “You represented me to those people. You had the responsibility of letting them know of my good will to that country. But now you have hindered their relationship with me and my nation!”
No doubt the disciples wanted to shield Jesus from the nuisance of noisy children. “Don’t bother the Master,” we can almost hear them say, “He has more important things to do. Don’t waste his time.” Jesus, in turn, rebuked his disciples for hindering the children from coming. Jesus loves the little children and counts them among His disciples. Sometimes, "big disciples" like us can create obstacles that keep "little ones" away. As people who are responsible for children, either as parents or teachers or what not, our word or action can block our children from approaching Jesus. We can become a road block to them who can be influenced and turned away from the Way of Christ by our unbecoming behavior. We can hinder children by our attitudes, inconsistencies, hypocritical living, or selling them cafeteria Catholicism and bad catechesis. What kind of ambassador are we to children? We are ambassadors of Jesus, and Jesus intends that children know His love, be brought to Him, and that nothing hinder their relationship with Him.
And, this is what Jesus addresses to all of us today on this Feast of the Holy Child — First, the responsibility of bringing children to Christ and second, the serious danger of hindering them from coming to Him. Let us pray for this grace at the foot of the Eucharist today. I can't even believe the year has flown by this quickly. it's my birthday in 2 days! In a special way, Remember me in your prayers that God's will to be done in my life always. Pit Señor! Viva, Pit Señor! <enrique, ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum