FEAST OF SANTO NIÑO: SANTO NIÑO IN THE MIDST OF CALAMITIES AND SUFFERING

sto-nino

While the rest of the Catholic world celebrates the 2nd Sunday in ordinary time, the Philippines Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus). Vatican granted the Philippines Church a special permission to celebrate the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday of January because of the Filipinos’ exuberant devotion to Santo Niño.

The celebration of the feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful expression of the wedding between the Christian faith and the Filipino culture. Santo Niño symbolizes, on the one hand, the introduction of the Christian faith to the Filipino people.  On the other hand, Santo Niño symbolizes the celebration of the Filipino culture. The relic of Santo Niño is the first Christian image that set foot on Philippine soil, originally as a gift from explorer Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon and his chief consort on account of their baptism in 1521.

The native Filipinos welcome the relic of Santo Niño and the whole Christian faith, however, according to their cultural sensibilities. The cultural appropriation of Santo Niño is beautifully expressed in the dance called Sinulog. Before the Spanish conquistadores came, Sinulog was already danced by the natives in honor of their wooden idols and Anitos. The natives then adapted the Sinulog as a dance ritual in honor of the miraculous image of the Santo Niño. Thus, Sinulog became the link between the country’s indigenous past and its Christian present.

While devotees dance the sinulog, they chant “Pit Señor.” “Pit Señor” is the short form of “Sangpit sa Señor,” a phrase in Cebuano that means, “to call, ask, and plead to the king.”  Indeed, the image of Sto. Niño depicts an innocent boy Jesus with a smiling face yet dressed as a king. Dressed in the robes of a king, crowned and holding the sceptre, the globe and the cross, Sto. Niño reminds us of the link between God’s Kingdom and the mystery of spiritual childhood. These enigmatic contrasting elements provide us with one of the profound reasons to believe that Sto. Niño is our protector and has the power to grant and answer our prayers as many miracles have attested.

The readings of today’s feast invites us not just to venerate the relic of Santo Niño but more importantly to imitate the ways and values of Santo Niño.

In the first reading, Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” This light will be a child who will be born among them, “upon his shoulder dominion rests.” The description of the child sends a strong message to the oppressors of Israel. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader.  The child will defeat machineries of oppression and rule over Israel with wisdom, peace, justice and good judgment.

In the gospel today, Jesus called a child and put the child among his disciples :

“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

When Jesus used the symbol of the child it has nothing to do with romanticizing the child. Jesus brought out the symbol of the child in the context of the Kingdom of God when he asked:

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Who is the child in Jesus’ society during his time whom he considered as the greatest in God’s kingdom? Who are the children that Jesus referred to? The image of child or children represents the poor, the anawim, the insignificant, powerless, the “little ones” in Jesus and the Biblical times. They have no status and position in society. Who are the children in God’s eyes today? They are the poor who continue to be poor despite the massive display of wealth by the few, they are the victims of calamities–natural and human made, they are the victims of violence and extra-judicial killings, they are the powerless who are manipulated by powerful politicians and misled by fake news and misinformation, they are the sick and the dying who have no one to care for them, they are amongst us who are desperate and have no one to turn to but fellow poor and God.

When Jesus said to turn and become like children does not mean to become a child but to become anawim, poor, to become like one who depend on no one else but God. They are the least, the humble, the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoners, and the sick. They are people who need other people, and they are people who need God’s protection. They long for God to reign in their lives.

In other words, to become like little children is to become poor. We can only enter the kingdom of God if we become poor. No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God—they cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

The second point that Jesus wishes to impart to us in the gospel today is that by becoming children or poor we can take the side and advance the plight of our fellow poor people. Jesus said,

 “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me … Let no one despise these little ones, these children… Whoever despises one of these little ones who depend on God. … Beware! Their angels, their guardians, will see what you have done to them and will surely protect them. After all, they depend on God’s protection.”

He reminded his disciples that whatsoever they do to the poor, they did it to him. This is reiterated by Jesus at the end of time when he will return in glory to judge the world,

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

How do we become a child of the Kingdom of God today? We become a child of the Kingdom of God today, by upholding the aspirations of the poor, powerless, marginalized, victims of injustice, intolerance and inhumanity in our own communities, parishes and the wider society. In the midst of all the calamities and miseries we experience today, the image of Santo Niño is a powerful symbol of protest against the values and conditions that contradict the Kingdom of God—power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, injustice, exploitation, inequality and poverty.

The feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful festivity overflowing with profound spiritual meaning. It is nice to dance the Sinulog but let us make our celebration of the Santo Niño go beyond mere pageantry. May it truly transform us into children of the Kingdom of God. To become children of God is not to become childish in our faith.  To become children of God goes beyond having a zealous devotion to Santo Niño. To become children of God is to become poor and to cast our lot and struggle together with the poor, the least, the lowly and the most abandoned in our society today.

By doing so, we become the greatest in the Kingdom of God!

 

October – Rosary Month in the Shrine

rosary_omph

The shrine observes the whole month of October as Rosary month. During the whole month, the rosary is recited daily (except Wednesday and Sunday) by various church groups at the shrine. Within the rosary, there is a meditation on the life of Mary especially about the lessons that we can derive from her life for us today.

The Catholic church dedicates the month of October to the Most Holy Rosary. This is primarily due to the fact that the liturgical feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated annually on October 7. The church instituted this feast to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary in gratitude for the protection that she gives the Church in answer to the praying of the Rosary by the faithful.

The Rosary is one of the most popular prayer devotion of Catholics. Legend tells us that the Rosary as a form of prayer was given to St. Dominic (1170-1221) by Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. In the Middle Ages, it became a substitute for the Divine Office for the lay monks and devout lay persons who did not know how to read. Instead of the 150 psalms, they would pray 150 “Our Fathers” counting them on a ring of beads known as the crown or “corona.” Later, with the growth of popularity of Marian devotion in the twelfth century, the “Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary” developed now substituting 150 “Hail Marys” in place of the “Our Fathers.”

It is important to note that the Rosary is primarily a scriptural prayer. As Pope Pius XII (papacy: 1939-1958) stated, the Rosary is ” a compendium of the entire Gospel” (AAS 38 [1946] p. 419). The Rosary draws its mysteries from the New Testament and is centered on the great events of the Incarnation and Redemption.

At the end of October, the shrine culminates the rosary month with a special celebration. The shrine usually organizes a living rosary. The shrine assemble devotees mostly children and youth into the physical form of a Rosary, where each one represents one prayer bead, and the group recites the prayers together.

The Living Rosary reminds us that we are not alone in our prayers. Just like in the praying of novena, our individual prayer can become something much bigger when we join it with the prayers of others. The living rosary also reminds us that the rosary is not just something we pray but more importantly something we live as our partaking in the great redeeming mystery of the life of Jesus and Mary.

rosary_month

 

22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: TRUE HONOR

true-honor

One of the most common Filipino cultural trait is utang na loob which, when translated literally, means “a debt of one’s inner self (loob)” or simply a “debt of gratitude.”  The essence of utang na loob is an obligation to appropriately repay a person who has done one a favor. I do you a favor; you do me a favor. According to Filipino Psychologist Katrin de Guia, however, utang na loob goes much deeper than ordinary debt or even the western concept of owing a favor because loob involves a deeply personal internal dimension.  Utang na loob thus reflects the kapwa orientation of shared personhood or shared self, which is at the core of the Filipino values system. [1]

This trait is also very common among the Jews in Jesus’ time. In the Gospel of today’s 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time, Jesus told a parable which comments on this practice of reciprocity. The practice of reciprocity was a key factor in the economic life of equals in Jesus’ day. I do you a favor; you do me a favor—endlessly. This basic rule of behavior guided every host in drawing up the guest list.

Thus, accepting an invitation to dinner in the ancient Jewish world obligated a guest to return the favor. It was not uncommon for guests to decline the invitation, especially if they realized that returning the favor was more than they could or cared to handle (Luke 14:15-24). On the other hand, inviting people who cannot return the favor is viewed as cultural suicide. Jesus’ advice to his host was, therefore, not only rude and insulting but also shocking.

Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Such guests—the poor, crippled, lame, and blind—are clearly people of a lower social status than the host. To associate with such is to dishonor one’s own status. One’s social equals will then shun future invitations, and a host of means will be socially ruined.

Jesus, however, paints another picture of “true” honor. It is not human judgment, the return invitation, that determines honor. God determines true honor, and at the resurrection of the righteous, God personally will reward and honor the host who has been gracious to those unable to return an invitation.

Jesus echoes the First Reading, from Sirach:

My child, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God.

Humility is the virtue by which we acknowledge our status before God: we are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” who come to God’s table because of God’s invitation and generosity.

God, in the person of Jesus (see Lk 14:8), is inviting all people to the messianic feast. The only way to respond to this invitation is to renounce any claim or merit of one’s own.

The Pharisees expected the best seats as a reward for keeping the Torah, but, like the outcast, they have to learn that salvation has to be accepted as an unmerited gift—exactly as Sirach proclaims in the first reading.

Today’s liturgy challenges us to a different lifestyle, one based on forgiveness, love and faith, humble living, the following of Jesus, who is gentle and lowly of heart, peacemaking and suffering persecution, and service of others. It is responding to the challenge of living a shared personhood or shared self with others in the “God who has made a home for the poor.”

 


 

[1] Katrin de Guia,  Kapwa: The Self in the Other: Worldviews and Lifestyles of Filipino Culture-Bearers (Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc. 2005), 378.

17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: PRAYER AS PERSISTENCE

persistence in prayer

I just came back from visiting our home in Bicol, Philippines for the celebration of 93rd birthday of my father.  It was just a simple family celebration to give thanks to God for having given my father such a long life. He doesn’t have any major illness but just general weakness and immobility due to old age.

During the mass in celebration for his birthday, we all shared about the legacy of our father. We all agreed that one of the lasting and greatest legacy he has left us is the value of persistent prayer. He taught us to pray daily the Rosary as a family together. He told us, as well as many people, to pray always. As a Legion of Mary diocesan leader, he would tag us along in going house to house exhorting the people to pray always.

Today’s readings of the 17th Sunday in ordinary time, teach us about persistence in prayer. Jesus in the gospel even tells us to be obstinate in asking God for all our needs.

Abraham in the First Reading continuously bargained and negotiated with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorah from destruction for the sake of innocent people who lived there. For each of Abraham’s petition, God granted Abrahams prayer.

Jesus recommends the same attitude of persistence in prayer. In the Gospel he tells the famous parable about knocking on the door of a friend late at night to borrow some bread. The friend refuses because he and his family are all in bed. Jesus says, “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will get out of bed to give him what he needs because of his persistence.”

These readings tell us that prayer is not just mere verbal supplication of our needs but more profoundly a positive and courageous attitude before God. As Pope Francis said, prayer is a courageous “knocking at the heart” of God with a strong unwavering faith that he will respond.

When we pray courageously, the Lord gives us the grace, but he also gives us himself in the grace: the Holy Spirit, that is, himself! Who comes to bring it to me. It’s him. Our prayer, if it is courageous, receives what it asks for, but also that which is more important: the Lord. …

Pope Francis, Vatican City, Oct 10, 2013

In the Baclaran shrine, this persistence in prayer attitude is shown through the letters that devotees write to Our Mother of Perpetual Help.  From the thanksgiving letters we read every Wednesday, one important albeit hard insight that devotees learn is that in prayer they receive may not be the answer which they desire, but the answer which God in his wisdom and love knows to be best. In other words, not all petitions from the devotees were answered by God in the exact way and time that the devotees hoped for.

Even though their prayers were not answered in the way they expected it, Our Mother of Perpetual Help empowers and strengthens them as they continue to hope that God will respond to their prayers in the way that God knows what is best for them.  As the devotees pray in the novena, “Make us aware that God never ceases to love us; that He answers all our prayers in the way that is best for us.” Krystelline Jimenez testifies to this conviction in her thanksgiving letter February 3, 2016,

I have prayed the Novena every Wednesday morning for a couple of years now. Some of my petitions were answered with a “no”, some were “not yet” but most were “YES”. But more than the petitions, the Novena gives me a sense of security, a sense of peace, where nothing could ever go wrong. I thank the Lord and Mama Mary for taking care of me and my family despite my shortcomings. Thank you for my whole life, including the No and Not yets.

There are some devotees where many of their petitions were not even answered. Despite this, they continue to come to the shrine. For them, the warm presence and loving gaze of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is enough as it gives them inner peace and strength. This is the experience of Ritchie Limpin who wrote in July 08, 2014,

For a person who has many concerns like me—a single mom who brings up my children alone, it is only to Our Mother of Perpetual Help that I hold on to. I must admit, there are times that I started to ask myself, what do I get out of coming here besides the profound peace I feel whenever I come to this place? Are there any prayers that she has already heard and come true? Despite all of these, I continue to visit her even though sometimes there is nothing that I can think of anymore to pray for. I just remain sitting or kneeling there and praying the novena.

For the petitions answered, however, they are not just graces coming from God but supplemented by human efforts and cooperation. As the Filipino saying goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa” (Mercy is God’s, action is us) implies that prayer must be complemented by action and action must be supplemented by prayer.

How to pray with icons: A brief guide — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture

Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) is an icon enshrined on the altar of the Baclaran shrine. The original icon of OMPH is enshrined in Rome in the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Chiesa di Sant’Alfonso di Liguori all’Esquilino in Italian). It is a Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Church) icon painted sometime between 1350 and 1450 AD in the island of Crete by an unknown iconographer (painter of icons).

Unlike other objects of devotions to the Blessed Mother in the Philippines, which are usually images, or statues of Western origin, OMPH is an icon of Eastern origin.  Not all devotees know that OMPH is an icon, let alone an Eastern icon. Many are unfamiliar that this icon comes from the Eastern Church tradition.

To grow in our devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, it is essential to understand and practice praying with icons. This article provides a brief guide on how to pray with icons.

Praying with icons is an ancient practice that can draw a person closer to God.From the very beginning, Christians have created pictorial representations of God and the saints for use during personal and public prayer. It was seen as a way to enhance a person’s prayer, giving a visual medium to meditate on while conversing Read More…

via How to pray with icons: A brief guide — Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture