“Where are there lots of colors, Colton?” “In heaven, dad. That’s where all the rainbow colors are.” –Todd Burpo, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone (Is 9:1).”
Today’s Gospel tells about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy about light shining on those who dwell in darkness. Coinciding with this, the majority of the Christendom celebrates the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which started from January 18, former feast of the Chair of St. Peter and will end on the 25th, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. These circumstances seem to call us to reflect on Christian unity.
The Church was, is and will always be one as there is only one Jesus Christ with one mystical body, as there is only one God in three Persons. And all Christians believe in the oneness of the Church. “We believe in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” as professed in the Nicene Creed recited in Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican liturgy and in many Protestant church worship services. Contrary to the customs of His day, where it is the disciples and students who seek out a rabbi under whom they will study, it was Jesus who seek out and called His disciples, without inquiring about their qualifications, personalities and family backgrounds. For Jesus and for the Kingdom, it is availability rather than ability that matters. It is availability for the mission, rather than our historical disputes, our doctrinal differences and obstinate biases, that matters. May our common availability to Jesus and for His Kingdom be the beginning of Christian unity. As the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity exhorts: “The love of Christ impels us (2 Cor 5:14)!” The heart of all our churches is none other than the person of Jesus Christ and His love which calls us: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mat 14:19).” Now, how can we gather people for the Kingdom if we ourselves are scattered, divided and at odds against one another?
“I urge you brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose (1 Cor 1:10).”
Above the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, leaning outside a window sill, lies a concrete and very powerful symbol of Christian division: a ladder maybe left by a mason during a repair of the church in the 18th century remains unmoved even up to now. The reason for this is that nothing can be moved or changed in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher unless the six Christian denominations who claim custody of the sanctuary agree with one another. By a pontifical order in 1964, Pope Paul VI decreed that the ladder will remain unmoved unto the day when all Christian divisions will finally be healed.
Photo from Wikipedia: The Immovable Ladder
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1:13)”
The visible light is a spectrum and so is Christ’s light. It may be a spectrum of different cultures, sects and denominations, and some may be brighter than others, yet light is light. There is only one light, and this light, united, is the sole answer to the many great and various forms of darkness in our world today. God is greater than any church or all the churches put together, He continues to operate despite our weaknesses and our divisions. And it is only by Jesus that we can be united and so we sing with the Psalmist:
“The Lord is my light and my salvation! (Ps 27)”
“The very reason why Jesus became a child is so that he may teach us the way to become children of God.” -St. Augustine
“For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful…(Is 9:5-6).”
The Sto. Niño is, arguably, the most popular image of Jesus in the Philippines You can find him, literally, anywhere. He is almost present in every altar in all Catholic homes. He also makes his appearance in business establishments and stores. He is placed on vehicles, public and private. You can buy one in every religious store and you may find him in all kinds of attires and professional regalia. Moreover, the Sto. Niño stands as the oldest relic of Christianity in the Philippines. Yet, despite the solid Filipino devotion to the Holy Child, only a few can really say that they know what they see when they gaze upon the Sto. Niño.
The Sto. Niño is a very rich image of God and the wonderful mystery of the Incarnation. Realizing who the Sto. Niño equates to realizing how much truly God loves the world so as to give his only-begotten Son. All parents among us can only reflect on what can make them offer their child for the salvation of others. The Sto. Niño is a perpetual reminder that God truly became one of us. None of us can ever really compare to the life that Jesus lived. But all of us can claim that we have all become children. And every time we look at the Sto. Niño, we can only be filled with awe and wonder on how a child be the one who created the world, who existed before anything else and who held the future in his own little hands. Finally, we must be reminded by the Sto. Niño of a God who is ever childlike; a God who loves like a child, simple like a child, approachable like a child, and can be hugged and carried –even loved like a child; Sto. Niño –our Wonder-Counselor, our God-Hero, our Father-Forever, our Prince of Peace.
“Therefore, I too, hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and of your love for all the holy ones, do not cease in giving thanks for you…may the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones (Eph 1:15-18).”
The feast of the Sto. Niño is a celebration of thanksgiving for the gift of Christianity to the Philippines –a faith that has shaped the destiny of this country and likely to play a role in the evangelization of Asia and of the world in the time to come. A concrete illustration would be the recent appointment of a Filipino in the bishopric of Salt Lake City in USA. Indeed, a child thru the image of the Sto. Niño, has conquered a country and has more conquest to do. May we truly appreciate and continue to cultivate as a country the gift that the Sto. Niño has given us.
“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me (Mt 18:4-5).”
How is it that all of us ever need a lesson in humility? Because it is pride that caused the fall of Lucifer and the fall of humanity. And it may be the reason why St Augustine extolled humility as the foundation of all virtues. That’s why Jesus demanded it as requirement for the kingdom. Because without humility, it will be impossible to have a relationship with God. If we are not humble, if we will not let go, how can God become God in our lives? If pride is the norm, how can we love and be loved? But the wonder of it all is that God humbled himself in order to facilitate a relationship with us, in order to show his love –that it’s all possible despite all the selfishness in the world. And such is the Sto. Niño.