Feast of Santo Niño, 14 January 2023, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. (Is 9:1-6; Eph 1:3-6. 15-18; Mt 18:1-5. 10)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ

I repeat again what I said at the beginning of our Mass. It is an enormous joy to welcome you today, dear friends, to our Cathedral for the wonderful Feast of Santo Niño, so dear to the hearts of Filipino Catholics everywhere and, not least, here in our Archdiocese of Southwark.

For centuries the image of the Child Jesus has been honoured and cherished with tremendous devotion. Fiesta Señor is a reminder that the Eternal Word of God became flesh and lived a hidden home life with Our Blessed Lady and St Joseph, as a time of intimate preparation for His public ministry, for His saving passion and death, and for His glorious resurrection.

Dear friends how can we be anything other than joyful today? In Christ we have been given such a precious gift. The Infant Lord Jesus comes with open arms to embrace us with divine love. He teaches us how to grow, day by day, in faith and trust. He shows us what it means to be faithful to the Father’s purpose for our lives, to really pray with faith ‘they will be done.’ He shows that holiness is to be found in the ordinariness of our families and homes. As we listen to the Scriptures we hear the truth of God’s promises. What the Prophet Isaiah foretold came true. The assurances made to Our Blessed Lady and St Joseph came true. The gift of God to us, made flesh in Christ, is real and true. A Child has been born for us. A Son has been given to us. Authority and power rest upon him, even upon his tiny shoulders as a child. He is our magnificent guide through life, our powerful God, our never-ending Father, our supreme example and leader in the ways of Peace. God’s promises to us in Christ, in Santo Niño, are true and we trust them. 

My brothers and sisters, in Christ have we not seen a great light? Has not a light shone upon us who walk in darkness and shadow? Like at a time of abundant harvest, do we not rejoice in God’s goodness? The answer, of course, is yes! We have seen a great light. It has shone upon us. And we do rejoice. This is why we honour Santo Niño, this is why we raise high his image and dance with him towards eternal life. 

Dear friends, has God not blessed us in Christ? Has God not chosen each of us to be holy? Has God our Father not made us sons and daughter in his love to praise his glorious name? Again, the answer, of course, is yes he has. The Infant Lord Jesus shows us what it means to live these truths: how to love with simplicity; how to love with purity; how to love with gentleness. The Christ Child in not someone in the past. He is alive in our present, teaching us wisdom, enlightening our minds and enlarging our hearts. Why?  So that we can know and witness that we have a hope in Jesus, the Savour of the world. 

Dear brothers and sisters the Lord Jesus himself told us that unless we become like children we cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. Only when we truly humble ourselves – seeking the good of others, not bragging about our talents, serving with unassuming respect – can we be great in the Kingdom.

The great French bishop, St Hilary of Poitiers, put it like this: ‘Young children … do not know how to wish ill on their neighbour; [they] show no concern for wealth; [they] are not proud, do not hate, do not lie; [they] believe what has been said and hold what they hear as truth.’ This is why the Lord Jesus calls us to be disciples who are like children. This is why we keep the image of Santo Niño before us.

In a similar way, the great translator of the Bible, St Jerome, taught that a child ‘does nor persist in anger, does not long remember injury suffered, but remains in innocence.’ This is why the Lord Jesus calls us to be child-like disciples who live out the beauty of holiness.

Perhaps we can each ask ourselves today: What does it me for me to be child-like in my faith? What does it mean for me to humble myself in my daily Christian living? What do it mean for me to become small so that Christ might be great in and through me?

Our feast of Santo Niño emphasises the vital importance of upholding the dignity of children and young people in our Church, society and world. Each of us, and all of us, must safeguard and protect them from abuse of any kind. Each of us, and all of us, must defend every child’s right to life from the first moment of their conception. Each of us, and all of us, must work for every child and young person’s proper housing, food, shelter, education and healthcare. Each of us, and all of us, must see in every child the face of the Infant Lord Jesus, honouring and treasuring Christ’s image in them. 

St Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, honoured by a shrine in our Cathedral, called us ‘not to seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs, but to see him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat; [and to seek him] among the poor […] who will sleep covered in newspapers in doorways. ’Following Our Lord’s command means we should never despise any of our little ones. Our devotion to the Infant Lord Jesus cannot stop at reverencing his image. It must leads us to a practical concern for suffering children and young people – whether in the Philippines, here in the United Kingdom, or across our globe. Small actions done with a large heart can, and do, make a difference. So what will I do? What will you do?

Dear friends sometimes someone will ask us: how old do you feel? If I asked you today, not how old you are, but how old do you feel, I wonder what you would say? When I was first ordained a priest we had a lovely housekeeper. On her ninetieth birthday I said to her ‘I know you are 90 years old today, but how old do you feel?’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘about 14.’ Today Santo Niño invites you to remain young in your faith – excited, hopeful, interested and energetic. We may grow older physically as the years pass; but our faith is ever-young because Christ is eternally alive. He never grows old and, in Him, neither do we, and neither does the Church. 

My brothers and sisters keep your faith young by loving others generously. Keep your faith young by continuing to learn from the Lord Jesus, and from his Holy Mother and St Joseph, what it means to be a faithful disciple. Keep your faith young by constantly desiring and rediscovering simplicity, purity, and joy. And to the dear young people here today, I repeat words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI: ‘…the Church depends on you! She needs your lively faith, your creative charity and the energy of your hope. Your presence renews, rejuvenates and gives new energy to the Church.’ As Pope Francis has said often, young people are not the future of the Church; they are the present.

As we celebrate the feast of Santo Niño I would like to thank you, as the Filipino community here in the Archdiocese of Southwark, for the beautiful ways in which you live and witness to your Catholic faith, shown especially in your commitment to your families and in your vibrant spirit of discipleship and evangelisation. You are a blessing to us, to the Church and to our country. Continue to uphold your Catholic faith, passing it on to your children. Continue to celebrate the traditions of your homeland, your language and culture. Continue to brighten the world with generosity and hope in Christ. 

Beloved St Therese of Lisieux, St Therese of the Infant Jesus wrote words we can each make our own: ‘I pray,’ she said, ‘like children who do not know how to read. I say very simply to God what I wish to say without composing beautiful sentences, and he always understands me.’ And so we pray:

Santo Niño, help us to love you. 

Santo Niño, help us to love each other.

Santo Niño, help us to remember always that you loves us – now and forever. Amen.