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. The relic of Santo Niño is the first Christian image that set foot on Philippine soil. On the other hand, Santo Niño symbolizes the celebration of the Filipino culture. The native’s 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 feast of Santo Niño is a continuous celebration of God’s incarnation—God immersing himself into the life and situation of his people. The celebration of the feast of Sto. Niño is a celebration of the childhood of Jesus. Jesus as a boy experienced all the joys and pains, anxieties and jubilations that every Jewish boy would have experienced during his time.
The readings of today’s feast talk about the spiritual meaning of the boyhood of Jesus.
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, we hear of the story when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents–Joseph and Mary–took him on a journey to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. After the feast, however, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. And when they found him, he was among the learned in the temple. They did not fully understand what Jesus told them about his mission.
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
In the Temple, the boy Jesus finds home and school: He must be in his Father’s house; he discusses with the learned. The boy Jesus was aware of his mission at an early age. He was discussing already with the experts. The boy Jesus was obedient to the Father in heaven as well as to his parents.
What does the childhood of Jesus say to you and me today? In the childhood of Jesus we foresaw what he will become when he grows up. The child Jesus grew in wisdom and age and favor before God and people. He never lost his childlike-attitudes but developed them to become the Messiah who came to serve, not to be served. He grew to become the bearer of good news of God’s liberation from all forms of oppression especially to the poor, the powerless, the vulnerable and rejects of society. He grew to proclaim true greatness and success beyond wealth, fame, and power, but being poor in spirit, simple, and humble. He grew up to suffer and give his life on the cross because of his great love for all humanity.
In the same way, the feast of Santo Niño calls us to grow in our own faith. While not losing our childlike-attitudes, this celebration challenges us to transform our childish attitude and faith to become mature followers of Christ. The image of Santo Niño is not someone whom we can manipulate according to our whims and caprices. The child is not someone to be babied, not a weakling, but a strong leader. Our devotion to Santo Niño demands of us not just piety but radical changes in our attitudes and mindset in accordance with the gospel values that Jesus proclaimed. Our devotion to Santo Niño calls us to commit to God’s kingdom and live opposite the values and conditions that contradict the Kingdom—power, domination, wealth, violence, pride, injustice, exploitation, inequality and poverty.
The feast of Santo Niño is a beautiful festivity brimming with profound spiritual meaning. It is, indeed, fit and just to joyfully dance the Sinulog but the celebration of the Santo Niño goes beyond mere pageantry. To be a devotee of Santo Niño is not to become childish in our faith; it goes beyond piety and petitionary form of relationship with Santo Niño. It calls us to grow and to change our lives to become disciples of Jesus and proclaimers of his Kingdom. It calls us to grow in maturity of our faith.
Viva, pit Señor!