Today we celebrate the oldest devotion in the Philippines, the Feast of the Santo Niño. With the Cross of Magellan, the Santo Niño is one of the first icons of the Philippine Catholic Church.
Interestingly, two feasts close to the Filipino’s heart and soul come close to each other at the start of the year— the Feasts of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo and the Santo Niño nationwide. The processions for both are well- attended, running into the millions of devotees.
The Black Nazarene shows one side of the Filipino Catholic devotion, millions joining the procession as a panata—no English word comes close: commitment, pledge, vow, devotion?—for favors or miracles given or sought through the Black Nazarene.
It is the element of the psyche of a people who, when the chips are down, draw strength from their faith in a God who will not abandon them because He suffered for them. It is a concrete manifestation of faith in Christ “who loved us and gave Himself up for us.” (Galatians 2: 20)
Another element in the devotion to the Santo Niño is a childlike trust in God’s providence, often described as a “bahala na ang Diyos” attitude (God will provide).
There are two reflection points to integrate the two elements of our faith. One is the Gospel for today’s feast, the Finding in the Temple. Two is from Thomas à Kempis’ 15th-century classic, “The Imitation of Christ”: “Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit (Man proposes, God disposes).”
The latter gives a synthesis point of these two elements. In the devotion to the Black Nazarene, we propose to God, and in the devotion to the Santo Niño, we allow God to dispose of us, with childlike confidence.
Man proposes—we see it in the devotion of the millions of namamanata during the Black Nazarene of Quiapo procession. Beyond the supplication for a miracle, the panata is an expression of putting trust in a God one believes will take care of us.
The proposal is in the total surrender and offering of self in faith, the pananalampataya. Then, and only then, can one acknowledge that God disposes—the freedom of living life knowing God is in charge, though a loving providential presence.
The grace is the childlike devotion to God that He “may dispose of us totally according to his will.”
The childlike devotion is expressed in the revelry of the Ati-Atihan and the Sinulog in southern Philippines, where people dancing in the streets pay tribute to the Child Jesus.
God disposes—this comes to a deeper synthesis in the reflection on the Finding in the Temple. Here the Child Jesus is catching a glimpse of who He is and what His mission will be.
In the Child Jesus will be fulfilled the coming of the Kingdom. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us.
Generations of devotees
I end with a story about ABS-CBN’s Ginger Conejero in the Quiapo procession back in 2010. Her family, through generations, are devotees of the Black Nazarene. Her desire to join the procession made her father coach her on what to do.
As the procession passed by, she was to jump on top of the men accompanying the carrozza of the Black Nazarene, hand over her small face towel, to be wiped on the image, then jump back into the crowd on the streets.
She did as instructed. At the moment she was handing over her piece of cloth, she was overcome with emotions she could not explain. It was an experience of the presence of grace.
Amid the noise, she could hear her father: “Ginger, jump! I will catch you.”
She broke down and cried, realizing that, throughout her life, her father had always been there—loving her and taking care of her. –CONTRIBUTED