We have the special privilege of celebrating the Feast of the Santo Niño every third Sunday in Ordinary Time. Historically, the Christian devotion to the Child Jesus is the oldest in the country, with Magellan gifting Rajah Humabon and Queen Juana with the image of the infant Jesus.
Culturally and spiritually, our devotion to the Santo Niño speaks volumes of what is core to our heart and soul as a people. This devotion, plus the devotions to the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, and Our Blessed Mother, gives us a unique insight into our psyche, our soul as a people.
Our readings for the Feast of the Santo Niño celebrate the blessings and graces that come to us in and through Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is specially framed in the persona of a child: the beautiful prophecy in Isaiah of the birth of the child who will fulfill our deepest longings and God’s faithful promise, a theme similar to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Christ himself speaks that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
Epitome of empathy
A child is the epitome of empathy. He or she can laugh, cry, listen and play with others at the drop of a hat. Bill Bullard, a former US legislator and public servant, defines empathy as “the highest form of knowledge… for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires a profound purpose, larger-than-the-self kind of understanding.”
Children have no egos (yet), and through an active imagination and great capacity for play, they are able to enter the world of others in a non-judgmental way.
We see this in the merry-making, the dancing and singing on the streets of Cebu during Sinulog, or in Kalibo during the Ati-Atihan.
It is an empathy married to the playful, free spirit of a child, the “hala bira” spirit.
This is the same spirit that marks the more Western Mardi Gras, and is reminiscent of the famous dance in the classic novel of Nikos Kazantzakis, “Zorba the Greek” (1946).
The two main characters, Zorba and Basil, are your yin and yang combination, the peasant and the aristocrat, respectively. After a convoluted story of comedy, earthy romance and tragedy, the story ends with Basil’s project, to which he had enlisted Zorba’s help, ending in total failure.
Wisdom in madness
Reeling from the failure, Basil asks Zorba to teach him how to dance. In the end, the two laugh and dance together in the midst of failure. Basil learns the wisdom of the madness of song and dance. “Hala bira.”
There is wisdom in madness. There is wisdom in the “fanatic frenzy” on the streets of Cebu and Kalibo as we dance to “Pit, Senyor.”
There is wisdom and order and discipline in the millions who join annually the Traslacion of the Senyor Nazareno, the Black Nazarene of Quiapo.
These “fanatics,” the deeply devoted, live their life with faith and courage, believing their lives have been touched by a miracle or praying for one. It gives them grace to live courageous if not heroic lives.
The dancing and the singing on the streets are expressions and moments of gratitude and renewal. They dance and they sing to pray, to give thanks, and to renew—the renewal of faith and courage.
The faith of a child trusts in the promise of the other that there will be a great light in the midst of gloom that will usher in a period of great rejoicing and hope, and the fulfillment of ancient promises in Christ; that it is the childlike who will enter God’s Kingdoms.
It is this trust that gives the child the courage to act and enter life. Courage is “katatagan ng loob,” a strength of character that comes from a solid inner core, a core that has kept or regained its integrity.
It is this integrity that gives one the freedom to dance and to sing, to also live life with the “hala bira” spirit, a joie de vivre not simply in a bohemian way, but more of celebration and gratitude.
All of these are synthesized in the grace of empathy with others, on the level of individual relationships and, building on this, on the level of community founded on the acknowledgement of a shared humanity.
It is this empathy evoked by our devotion to the Child Jesus that makes us sing and dance without getting too wrapped up in ourselves, makes us trust and act with courage not in a self-righteous and self-centered way, but always on behalf of the other with the hope of building a better world for all.