[Feast of the Sto. Niño, January 18, 2015. Isaiah 9:1-6, Ps 98, Eph1:3-6, 15-18,Mark 10:13-16]
This day Pope Francis will be celebrating a mega-Mass in Luneta Park (although every Eucharist is mega!). We pray that his visit to the Philippines and Sri Lanka will bear fruit in us all and that as Pope Francis asks “the focus will be on Christ”! Looking at Christ today in the Gospel, we see the concern of Jesus for the children. They come to receive a blessing but the disciples rebuked them. Can you imagine! When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.
Our experience of faith began when we were children. I remember when I was around 5 years old and at a Mass being curious about the tabernacle. I asked my mom about it and she told me it was where Jesus lived. I told her “Mom, I would like to be a priest but just for one day only.” She asked me why only one day? I explained “Well, I would just want to look inside the tabernacle once and see Jesus living there.” Can you recall early experiences of God?
Parents and relatives, from baptism onwards, have a vital role in nurturing the faith of their children. Last Sunday, Pope Francis baptized 33 children. In his homily he said “So you, parents, as well as godfathers and godmothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, will help these children to grow well if you give them the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus. And also give it with your example! Everyday, take the habit of reading a Gospel passage, a small passage, and always carry a small Gospel in your pocket, in your purse, to read. And this will be an example for the children, to see their father, mother, godparents, grandmother, grandfather, uncles and aunts, reading the Word of God.” Do you teach your children how to pray? Let us make a good habit of reading the Word of God each day. I challenge you!
Children are often very desirous to be friends with Jesus. It is a pity when adults, like the disciples, stop them coming to the Lord. Once in a Mass in an exclusive school one child was sad because although they enjoyed the school Mass they did not go to Mass on Sundays “because my parents do not want to go.” Or even for the sacrament of reconciliation. In that same school I was amazed at the excitement of the children for their first confession. What a contrast to us adults sometimes. Is it about time you yourself went to confession? That is a great example to set for your family and friends.
In our world today often children are the innocent victims of violence and injustice. In some countries they are forced to carry arms and fight in wars. Closer to home they can be kidnapped by traffickers or even encouraged by their parents to engage in prostitution and cyber-sex. In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis mentions further concerns—“children used for begging” and also the “unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us.”
The Catholic Church is so correct to denounce and draw attention to the estimated 50 million abortions worldwide. Even many so-called atheists (I say so-called as sometimes they actually believe like the graffiti artist who wrote “I am an atheist thank God” and also to remind us that we can be Church goers and live a “practical atheism” whereby on Monday morning looking at our lives there is absolutely no difference in the way we live from a declared non-believer) would agree that abortion is too commonplace.
Interestingly enough, the concern for children is echoed in many fields of human life. Comes to mind the example of Charles Dickens who had a harsh childhood and later dedicated many literary efforts such “A Christmas Carol” to trying to improve the attitudes towards children. Charles Kingsley’s novel “The Water Babies” is also a social commentary against unjust working conditions for children in 19th century England. Am I sensitive also to the realities of children around me?
Jesus invites us all to become like children (not childish) in announcing, “Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” I like the invitation of Pope Francis “don’t be ashamed in having a heart like that of a child who, since it still believes in impossible things, can live with hope.” We need hope.
Viktor Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist imprisoned in Auschwitz concentration camp noted that more inmates died at Christmas and New Year not because of less food or colder weather but because they lost hope. The feast of Sto Niño today reminds us of the need to become like children. What does it mean for you and me?
Let us pray that the presence of Pope Francis can fill us and our nation with so much hope.
Have a blessed Sunday!