Fr. Johnny Go S.J., School Director
Feast of Sto. Nino
21 January 2007
Today on the feast of the Sto. Nino, our Gospel recounts the finding of the Christ Child in the temple. As we just heard, it has a happy ending: Mary and Joseph found our Lord, and we’re told that he went home with his parents to Nazareth, where he was obedient and where he grew “in wisdom and in stature.” End of story.
But I think we have a problem here. The happy ending may make us fail to appreciate the depth of this story because it tends to make us forget the three long days of stress and anxiety that Mary and Joseph had to go through while searching everywhere for their lost son, who somehow forgot to ask for permission—or even inform them—that by the way, he was going to stay behind in Jerusalem. No wonder our Blessed Mother could not help but rebuke him, saying, “Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously?”
To make matters worse, how does their little renegade son respond to this? He says, “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Of course our reaction to this is usually one of awe. We nod our head in approval and tell ourselves, “Our Lord is really great. Even as a child, he’s now realizing his mission which is greater than family ties.” That’s true, of course, and certainly that’s one of the things that the Gospel is teaching us: that like our Lord, we must prioritize God’s will over all the other things, including family relationships.
That’s all well and good, but here’s a question: What about Mary’s feelings? The Gospel tells us that typical of Mary, she “kept all these things in her heart.” But if like the rest of us, she had spoken, what would she have said? What could she have been feeling in her heart? Of course we can only guess, but I think you will agree with me that she probably wasn’t exactly thrilled about her son’s response.
Here’s an exercise in imagination for the mothers among us here tonight: You’ve been running around with your husband in a strange city for three days looking for your lost son, your heart pounding in anxiety every step of the way. The nights are, of course, worse: You’re exhausted from the search and you can’t help but imagine all sorts of worst scenarios about him and losing sleep for two nights in a row. Now you find him, and of course like Mary, you can’t help but at least tell him how you feel. And he answers by saying: “Why did you have to look for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Now, how would you respond to that? To use a teenager’s language, you’d probably say, “Duh? We’re not supposed to look for you? And we’re supposed to know that you just suddenly decided that you liked church so much you decided to sleep there?” I’m sure many of the mothers here can think of a more colorful response.
But while we’re at this, how do you think Joseph felt? When Mary told Jesus, “Your father and I have been looking for you,” Jesus responded, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Ouch. I’m sure that hurt even if and maybe especially because Joseph knew that Jesus was right: He wasn’t his real father—and to be reminded of it again.
Robert Fulghum had written in one of his books that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but words can break our hearts.” I’m pretty sure that that day Mary and Joseph went home to Nazareth rather broken-hearted. They knew that the time had come for them to begin learning to let go of their precious son because he really wasn’t theirs.
My point here is not that our Lord was wrong in doing and saying. He had to do what he did. He probably had to say what he did too. Now that he was twelve, it was time to do and say the things he did. It also probably wasn’t easy for him to say it because he knew it would hurt his parents, whom he loved deeply.
So what’s my point? Contrary to our usual ideas, the feast of the Sto. Nino, which we celebrate today, isn’t about a cute, harmless little boy that we tend to treat either like a lucky charm that we display in our homes or shops, or like some Catholic version of the Barbie doll that we dress up in all sorts of fashion. The feast of the Sto. Nino reminds us that as a child and certainly soon as a teenager, our Lord was already beginning to learn that there were certain things that he would have to say and do simply because they were right even if they were not easy to do, even if they would hurt those whom he loved. The Christ Child was surely capable of being tough because he was already beginning to understand that he was born for greater things, a mission that transcended even his family. In other words, the Feast of the Sto. Nino teaches us about the courage and faith of a young boy amidst all the uncertainties and the pains that always accompany those growing-up years. Our Lord was beginning to realize that it was time to let go of his own preferences because his life was not his own.
Today no matter how old we are, I think we are all invited to question ourselves about our own following of God’s will. Let us pray that like our Lord—and like Mary and Joseph, God will grant us the courage and the faith to do what He wants us to do.
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