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 (A)
Isaiah 9:1-6 | Psalm 98: 1-5 | Ephesians 1:3-6.15-18 | Matthew 18:1-5.10
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 499 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.
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.
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?”
Having to sit in a couple of lengthy meetings and audiences, Pope Francis, after his Apostolic and state visit to Manila, was in danger of missing his flight back to the Vatican. Wanting to catch his flight, he went to extreme lengths by phoning a limousine for pickup to Manila International Airport. When the limousine arrived, the driver got the shock of his life when he realized that he will be driving for the Pope. He became a little nervous and proceeded to drive very slowly. The Pope, afraid to miss his flight, became nervous and told him to hurry up. It did not make a bit of difference. The driver went slower; he wanted to keep the Pope in his limousine as long as he could. The Pope could not be delayed any longer so he asked to drive the limo himself. “Well, to tell you the truth,” says the Pope, “they never let me drive at the Vatican, and I’d really like to drive today.” “I’m sorry but I cannot let you do that. I’d lose my job! And what if something should happen?” protests the driver. “There might be something extra in it for you,” says the Pope. Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, the Pope sped off and reached the speed of 105 mph. “Please slow down, Your Holiness!!!” pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal to the metal until they hear sirens. “Oh, dear God, I’m gonna lose my license,” moans the driver. The cop who stopped him was shocked when he discovered the famous personality behind the wheel. He frantically phoned his police chief and said, “Chief, I have stopped a very important figure for speeding. I don’t know what to do?” The Chief asked, “What do you mean? Give him a speeding ticket!” The cop replied, “Sir, in all honesty, I can’t.” The Chief impatiently asked, “Why can’t you? The law is the law. Who is it anyway that you stopped? Is it Mayor Isko Moreno?” The cop replied in a low tone, “No, sir.” ““Who do you got there, Speaker Cayetano? Senate President Sotto?”, the Chief asked again. “No, bigger,” answered the cop. “Is it President Duterte?" the Chief again asked. “No, bigger,” answered the cop. The Chief frustratingly asked, “Well, then, who is it?!” The cop scratched his head in uncertainty and said, “I think it’s God!” the cop exclaimed. “What makes you think that?” asked the Chief. “Well for one thing, the Pope is driving him to the airport!”
In our Gospel, the disciples were having an argument about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They were feeling very proud of themselves at the time and were sure that one of them would be the greatest. The Gospel reading teaches us to turn and become like children to be the greatest in heaven. What did our Lord actually mean by this? It is easy for us to get wrapped up in ourselves. The world around us tells us that to be great means to be wealthy, well known or popular, to be pretty or handsome, to receive a lot of awards and degrees on one’s field of expertise, etc.. However, the Lord tells us of another thing. Greatness in God's kingdom is never to be found in power, position, and prestige. To be the greatest, Jesus teaches, is to be humble like a child. Humility has nothing to do with humiliation, self-abasement, or low self-esteem. This means we take the focus off ourselves and put it on others. Humility means that we serve others rather than being consumed with ourselves. More than 30,000 individuals were displaced from their homes when the Taal volcano erupted on January 12, 2020, with residents of Batangas and Cavite fleeing to evacuation centers. Now is the perfect time to put others before ourselves. Let us not think twice of showing love and support for the calamity-stricken communities in whatever way we can. Send help. Donate in cash or in-kind. Volunteer your time and resources. Most importantly, remember them in your prayers.
An old man, a schoolboy, a community service worker, a doctor, and a politician are all on a plane with only four parachutes when suddenly the pilot of the plane suffered a stroke and instantly passes away. As the plane plummets its passengers to death the five members of the aircraft argue over who deserve to have the four bags containing the parachutes. The social worker said, "I deserve to live because I protect vulnerable children and support families in need of assistance." The Social Worker grabs the nearest bag and plummets out of the aircraft. The doctor pleaded, "I deserve to live because I help diagnose ill people with my specialized training." The doctor grabs the second bag and plummets out of the aircraft. The politician argued, "I deserve to live because I create laws and policies that govern the land and I am destined to be the next president of the Philippines." The politician grabs the third bag and plummets out of the aircraft. This leaves only the schoolboy and the old man in the plane with it descending toward the ground. The old man said, "Go ahead, boy. Take the last parachute. You have many years ahead of you while I am just an old man who is soon to die anyway. The schoolboy replied, "That's OK, grandpa. We can both take a parachute. Look there are still two left. The Old Man’s eyes widen with surprise. "What...but how is this possible?" Asked the old man. The boy replied, "The politician who creates laws and policies that govern the land and who is wanting to be the next president of the Philippines took my school backpack!
Let us be like that small child and like the Christ in the Gospel. Let us put others before ourselves. Our life journey is like a mountain climb, climbing the mountain of God. Experienced mountaineers find it safest, that the higher they ascend, the more they bow and stoop with their bodies. And so our Lord reminds us that the more money we have in the bank, the more popular we become, the more beautiful or handsome we become, the more intelligent we become, the more successful we become, the higher we get in our victories, to bow lowest in humility. As celebrated salesman Zig Ziglar declared, “It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.” Today is my 38th birthday. Please join me in thanking God for another year of life, for the blessings he has bestowed upon me over the last year. Pray also that I would always take the focus off myself and put it on others. Let us all pray for the grace of humility. It is only through humility that we will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven and great in the eyes of God. Pit Señor! Viva, Pit Señor! <enrique, ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum