2nd Sunday of the Year 2023, St Joseph’s, Berkeley Road
Mass with the Filipino Community: Santo Niño Sunday
Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell
“A child is born to us, a son is given us” (Isa 9:5). It is a great privilege for me to celebrate Señor Santo Niño Sunday with you. Today we celebrate and give thanks that for 500 years the light of the Gospel has shone on the Filipino people. We thank God for the five hundred years that his Name has been glorified, that true worship in spirt and truth (See John 4:24) has been offered to him.
Jesus always remains the child of his Father. Just as, for a parent, their child, always remains their child. The relationship grows and changes–often deepening, sometimes not. However, the changing relationship is built on a foundation that never goes away: this is my child. That it is why the death of a child is so painful for a parent, no matter whether that child is 40, or 50, or even 60 years old.
Santo Niño tells us that we are all God’s children. He reminds us of our deepest identity, of what we are called to be in God’s family. We always remain God’s children, no matter what we do, no matter what happens to us, no matter how we feel, or how alienated from God we become: the foundational relationship does not change: for God, we are always God’s children, the fruit of his love. He will always wait for us, as a wise parent waits for their wayward child.
And even more, God will seek us out, even when we seek to hide ourselves from his gaze: like Adam and Eve in the Garden, or as the Psalmist prays: [Even if] I say: “Let the darkness hide me and the light around me be night,” even darkness is not dark for you and the night is as clear as the day (Ps 139: 11-12).
A living faith permits our relationship with Christ to grow. “Let us remind ourselves that a static faith does not grow; we cannot enclose faith in some personal devotion or confine it within the four walls of our churches; we need to bring it outside and to live it in a constant journey towards God and towards our brothers and sisters” (Pope Francis, Homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany, 2023).
Santo Niño cannot run the risk of being reduced to a “personal devotion,” rather than being the root of a dynamic faith which seeks the living God and which reaches out to others. Santo Niño, the icon of the Father, the image of God, and at the same time the image of us, was a vulnerable child, in need of protection, who brought God’s compassion, mercy and justice into our world and touched the lives of ordinary people with his presence and his glory. He resisted the dishonesty, pride and corruption which are the legacy of sin, and he triumphed over them by the power of his cross. The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus brought us hope. Santo Niño is the promise that such hope is better than we can imagine, and the reminder that the way to it is through God’s mercy rather than our own strength.
Santo Niño reminds us of our call to spread the reign of Christ throughout the world. It also reminds us of the Word becoming incarnate in the world then and the ongoing outpouring of God’s life into our lives and into all creation. And “this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5b). He came that we might find him in each other, especially the poor, the vulnerable, and those on the edge. As Jesus says, “When you responded to the one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you responded to me (see Matt 25:40). We pray that He “who restored the tribes of Jacob and brought back the survivor of Israel” (Isa 49:5) may bring justice and restore peace to the little ones.
Here I would like to express my gratitude to the members of the Filipino community who work in our healthcare facilities. With the Covid-19 pandemic the last few years have been very stressful for those working in our hospitals and nursing homes. Moreover, the pandemic increased the physical isolation from each other and intensified the separation from your families at home. As someone who himself lost an aged parent in recent years, I am very grateful for the joy, the care and concern of the nurses and hospital staff that I experienced at that time. Gratitude needs to be matched by actively seeking strategies and resources in order to guarantee each person’s fundamental right to basic and decent healthcare (see Pope Francis, Address to Mark World Day of the Sick, 10th January 2023).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is, but John responds. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). John is not talking to himself here. There are people listening to him as he speaks about Jesus. He tells the people, “This is the One.” “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God”. The Son of God – the Jesus that John speaks of – is present here now. The challenge for us is to do what John does and share that same faith with the people around you.
John declares: “The one on whom you shall see the Spirit come down and rest, he is the one who is going to baptise you with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). Left to his own devices, John knew only a cousin and his childhood companion, not the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, not the well-beloved Son on whom the breath of the Father dwelt. In the Holy Spirit, however, he could see God in him. Christ and the Spirit belong to the triune God. When John yielded to the power of the Holy Spirit, he was empowered to open the world to the light of God. In prayer to the Holy Spirit we must call for this anew each day.
In turn, we would love to know Jesus and make progress in this knowledge. It is an endless task. Knowing Jesus in history, or in abstract truths does not suffice. “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism” (Joseph Ratzinger, Homily 24th February 2005). Jesus reaches much further. Christianity is an encounter, a love story. Jesus’ gaze, his name, his Body, which we receive in the Eucharist, constantly draw us further along, in the great movement of the Holy Spirit, into the heart of God. Yes, truly, He is the Son of God.
As André Louf pointed in the right direction when he stated that the only ones who know Jesus—the only true Christians—are those who allow themselves to be torn from themselves, and follow Jesus thereafter to that fullness from which we all receive, grace upon grace, inexhaustible fullness, which we call love.
May the Santo Níño bless you. May the Santo Niño continue to bless the Filipino people and to sustain you in your Christian vocation to be witnesses and missionaries of the joy of the Gospel here in Ireland. May Mary the Mother of Jesus, and Saint Joseph her spouse, assist you and all the families to reflect the holiness and joy and love of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Archbishop of Dublin