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Christianity: 'A chain of witnesses'

Homily at Mass with Filipino community on feast of the Santo Niño

Homily delivered by Archbishop Thomas Wenksi during a Mass with the Filipino community on the feast of the Santo Niño, Jan. 15, 2012.

Well, today Sunrise, Florida, becomes a little Cebu – as we celebrate on this third Sunday of January the feast of the Santo Niño. And, of course, Cebuanos take some holy pride that it was to Cebu that this holy image first arrived in 1521, and that it is in Cebu this miraculous image after all these centuries still has its home. However, you don’t have to be Visayan to love el Señor Santo Niño. Today’s feast is of great importance for every “Pinoy” and “Pinay” wherever they live.

1521, with the arrival of the Santo Niño, and the baptism of the queen and rajah, the Catholic faith took root on Filipino soil and in Filipino hearts. Today’s feast with its rich and colorful traditions reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ found fertile soil in the Filipino culture. And today we thank God for that faith that gives us a family where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Our Lord and Savior.

In the first reading Eli, realizing that the voice Samuel hears is the Lord’s, instructs him. “When he calls you, answer: Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” You could say that he introduced him to the Lord. In the Gospel reading today, John the Baptist introduces his disciples to Jesus and to a new future. One of them was named Andrew – and he, in turn, goes and brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus. And Andrew doesn’t stop there – later in the Gospel we hear how he brings a boy with some loaves and fishes to the Lord. We also see him bringing to Jesus some Greeks who told Phillip “we want to see the Lord.” In fact, this is what all Apostles were to do for the rest of their lives: to introduce people to Jesus. It was not enough for them – nor is it for us – just to be Jesus’ friend; we have to bring others to Jesus as well.

Today, if we have the faith, it is because someone introduced Jesus to us. I am sure you can remember who introduced you to your wife, or to your husband. But we should also remember those who introduced us to faith in Jesus. Perhaps our parents; perhaps the sisters or the parish priest back home; perhaps we can remember a particular catechist. And because sometimes we behaved like the Apostles and we ran away from Jesus, we can remember the person or persons who brought us back to him; the one who reintroduced him to us.

None of us goes to Jesus alone. Access to Jesus is always mediated through other people. Before we meet Jesus, we meet a whole litany of other people – and we all have come to Jesus by way of generations of Christians who shared with us their experience of Jesus, people who were themselves introduced to Jesus by others. Thus, the story of Christianity is a story of a great chain of witnesses linked through the Apostles to Jesus himself.

And for the Filipino people that chain of witnesses passes through Cebu when almost 500 years ago the queen and the rajah accepted the faith and were baptized and the image of the Santo Niño was given to her and to the Filipino people as a cherished treasure, a treasure not to be kept to oneself but to be shared with others. This representation of Jesus – true God and true man – as a child reminds us of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh – sharing in our human nature, he became like us in everything but sin. Like us, he was born of a woman; like us he grew, he learned; like us he worked and played; like us, he wept and he suffered.

The image of the Señor Santo Niño reminds us that God became for us a child. Sometimes, we find people who are afraid of God; they fear his wrath, his power. The Santo Niño reminds us that we need not fear God: for he loves us with a tender and merciful love. Just like we are not afraid of a little child, we should not be afraid of the God of Jesus Christ. Some people are angry at God. They blame him for whatever is wrong with their lives. And so, God becomes a child in Bethlehem. How can anyone be angry at a child? The Santo Niño reminds us to trust in God, to believe in his providence. You can’t be a friend of someone you fear or someone you are angry with – and Jesus calls us to be his friends. In the Gospel today, those first disciples stayed with Jesus – and their friendship with him began. In 1521, the image of the Santo Niño came to stay with the Filipino people – and your friendship with him, the friendship of your nation, began.

Indeed, each one of us through our own baptism has been called to be a friend of Jesus – and to introduce others to the Lord. This is our vocation as baptized Christians. In fact, John Paul II spoke of the unique vocation of the Philippines to bring Christ to Asia. As the only country in Asia where almost 90 percent of the population is Christian, it is no surprise that Filipinos will have a great role to play in evangelizing that great continent where Christ is still not well known. As San Lorenzo Ruiz did in his time, we pray that Filipino Catholics will continue to bring the good news to Asia – and not only Asia but wherever destiny has brought you.

We all have a part to play in introducing others to Jesus. Maybe we are not called to be great missionaries; but if we believe that Jesus is worth knowing, we can be “little” missionaries and bring others into his loving presence by our quiet witness.

This is how the faith began in Cebu – and that’s how the faith will continue to grow. Somewhere, someone like the Apostle Andrew will be helping to bring another person to meet Jesus. May that someone be you.

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