Filipinos celebrate two great feasts at the start of the year: the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene on Jan. 9; and the Feast of the Santo Niño on the third Sunday of January, which is today. These two events cause much fervor. Some criticize it as fanatical.
Fervor or fanaticism?
Even the mere suggestion of fanaticism as a description is insulting—not just to these two religious feasts, but to millions of Filipino devotees and Christians in general.
There is a description of a fanatic often attributed to Winston Churchill: “A fanatic is someone who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
Clearly this does not apply to Black Nazarene and Santo Niño devotees, since they profess conversion that led to transformed lives, thus the enduring devotion as an act of gratitude for many, and for some, an act of faith and surrender.
Fervor is a more apt picture of what these feasts tell us about Filipino spirituality and soul.
“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.”
The fervor of the childlike is what today’s feast makes us remember. The most famous of celebrations is the Sinulog in Cebu. We pray. We sing. We dance. We celebrate in honor of the Child Jesus. The oldest Filipino devotion is to the Santo Niño de Cebu.
One of the most powerful images of the child is the one in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It took a child to point out: “But he hasn’t got anything on!” when the emperor paraded in the nude. Only then did the town and the emperor realize their folly.
This is a testament to the wisdom and power of the Lord’s reminder in today’s Gospel: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
The tragedy in Andersen’s tale can be found at the end: “The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, ‘This procession has got to go on.’ So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.”
Today, millions of devotees all over the country will process, and some will dance on the streets in honor of and as a devotion to the Santo Niño. Like the millions who took part in the Traslacion of the Black Nazarene on Jan. 9, this is the fervor of our faith and people.
Far from fanaticism, it is a childlike faith in the Child Jesus. This childlike faith is pictured in the tale’s innocent child who spoke the truth: “But he hasn’t got anything on!”
Unfortunately, the fanatics chose not to be saved. The fanatics, the emperor and his court, “walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all”—not changing their minds and not changing the subject.
The Feast of the Santo Niño invites us to reanimate our childlike fervor, our childlike faith in Christ—the truth of Christ who came as an innocent, helpless child whose mission was to proclaim his Father’s love and his own love for us by dying on the Cross.
It is the Child Jesus, the Santo Niño who journeys toward the Black Nazarene and thus it is he “who has loved me and given himself up for me.”
Like the child in the tale, may we all speak the truth and awaken the fervor of faith in one another and in Christ “who has loved me and given himself up for me.” —CONTRIBUTED