We Were Once Children
Feast of the Holy Child (Philippines)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

This Sunday is fiesta galore in the whole Philippines. It is the feast of the Holy Child. There are so many chapels dedicated to the Sto, Nino that the priests could hardly cope with the requests for masses in these chapels. It is also the fiesta of my hometown in Midsayap, Cotabato where the crowd-drawing “Halad Festival” (Halad means offering) has become a tradition. The Mardi Gras-like street dancing in honor of the Holy Child has become a tourist attraction.

Why this devotion to the Holy Child? I think the question does not need an answer from the devotees. It is like asking a husband why he is devoted to his wife, or a mother why she is devoted to her child. For those who need a more intellectual explanation for the devotion, the Gospel gives the scriptural basis, “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 18:3).

Action starter: Introduce the adult you are now to the child you were before. Do they recognize each other?

What is it in a child that pleases God? Surely God wants us to be mature people.. Are we being called to regress to childhood? We have a Filipino term for adults who regress to childhood. They are called “ulianin” which is not a desired condition. We would not like to be in the situation of a seventy-year old man who behaves like he is seven years old. We are called to be child-like, not to be childish. There must be something in children that pleases God.

Perhaps to discover the pleasing qualities in children, we have to recall the times when we were children. We were all children once. Let me take you to a trip back to my childhood -- sometime between three to ten years old. It was an age of discovery. Every day brought something new. A caterpillar held as much fascination as a butterfly. I constantly asked, “Why?”

It was a time when we made friends and we discovered that activities were more exciting when done with others. We learned the value of rules. Even games had rules that we had to follow. We learned that cheating was not good and there were sanctions for unfair behavior. In a game of tag or hide and seek, when one was “out”, he was out.

We learned that some things we do could hurt others. We also learned that we could be hurt. We uneasily stayed around when a playmate cried. Somehow we learned how to be sensitive to the feelings of others. We discovered that there were bullies in the world. We either avoided them or stood up to them. The consequences were not always pleasant but at some time in our life, we discovered that we had to fight even if we get a bloody nose.

We also learned to be attuned to our surroundings. We knew that it was time to play with marbles, and rubber bands were out. It was the time to play with kites and slingshots had to be set aside. It was time to collect spiders rather than go fishing. It was the time to play with bottler caps instead of tops.

We learned to pray. We were taught that there was a God who watches over us and there were angels by our side. We were told to obey God just as we obey our parents. Of course, the voice of our parents was the voice of God. We did something because our father of mother said so. There were duties in life and we learned to sweep the floor and to wash the dishes.

We took so many risks as children. We could have drowned in the swimming hole or fallen from the trees. We could have lost an eye when challenged to fence with bamboo swords. We could have been gored by bulls or bitten by dogs when we dared each other to go nearer. We could have been bitten by snakes or by bees when we explored the woods. The guardian angels worked overtime until we fell asleep. Thanks be to God we are still here.

So what is it in childhood that pleases God? It was a time for just being. It was a time of engaging life in an immediate manner. Today is good and tomorrow is another good day. Before we learned to be cunning or pragmatic or calculating, we were innocent children. Our powers of imagining, reasoning, and willing worked hand in hand with our sense of joy, friendship, play, duty, fairness, and reverence for God.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood we have lost our “innocence”. We have become self-seeking, calculating, greedy, and disrespectful. We cannot be children again but we know deep inside us that there was a time when we relished the joy of discovery, the company of friends, the coolness of the water as we dangled our feet by the stream. We may even recall the joy of our first communion. There was something good and worth recovering from our childhood.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Child, let us rediscover the holiness of our own childhood.