By REV. LUNA DINGAYAN
“If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars; for we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.” – I John 4:20-21
The Black Nazarene Festival
As I was writing this reflection, preparations were already being made for the great feast of the Black Nazarene. In fact, the image was already at the Quirino Grandstand and devotees from various places were already waiting for the yearly procession or translation from Luneta to the Quiapo Church, the home place of the image. January 9 is a great day for the Black Nazarene devotees all over the world.
Devotees don’t want to miss this celebration for their own sake and for the sake of their own love ones. It is their own personal “panata” (vow) to join this yearly celebration believing that it will bring blessings, like healing or success in business or profession, for them and for their loved ones. No amount of hardships, injuries, or even death could ever discourage them from participating in this yearly ritual. As a matter of fact, reports show that Black Nazarene devotees are growing in number every year.
Now, it is significant to note that the Black Nazarene Festival is celebrated during the Season of Epiphany. This is the time when the whole Christian world celebrates the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ to the whole world. It is signified by the coming of the Wise Men from the East to the place where Christ was born and paying homage to him (cf. Mt. 2). But it is not just in the birth of the Christ, that God is manifested. Rather, God is shown in the whole of Christ’s life and ministry.
For the devotees the Black Nazarene is in a sense God’s manifestation. They truly believe God blessed them, because of their devotion to the image. Hence, they have to show their gratitude by being more devoted to the image. But, if they are not blessed, then perhaps their devotion may not be enough. And so, they have to show more devotion to the image.
Christ’s manifestation of God
Of course, we do not question the faith and sincerity of the Black Nazarene devotees. But perhaps we have to ask ourselves how do we manifest God in our lives? As Christians, we have to manifest God in our lives as Christ did. How did Christ manifest God in his life? Christ did not manifest God through devotion to an image, but rather through his love and service for the people, especially the last, the least and the lost.
That’s why the Writer of I John wrote to the members of his church who were undergoing conflict and dissention: “If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars; for we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.” (I Jn. 4:20-21).
John’s church was marred by conflict and dissention because of doctrine. Those who left the church didn’t believe that Christ is truly human, only divine, and just pretending to be human; while those who remained in the church believed that Christ is truly human and truly divine. Their conflict worsened and reached to a point when they no longer greet each as they used to do. Their conflict became ethical and moral. They called each other names and threw false accusations against each other. Hence, the Writer of I John said, “Whoever loves God must love others also.”
Manifesting God in our time
And so, how do we manifest God in our time? Following the Christ model, we manifest God in our lives not through rituals and ceremonies, but rather by doing concrete acts of mercy and compassion for the marginalized. In the Final Judgment in the end times, the Great Judge of all would say to those before him, “What you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.” (cf. Mt. 25).
In the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, God is made manifest in “bringing down the mighty from their thrones and in lifting up the lowly, in sending the rich empty away and in feeding the hungry.” (cf. Lk. 1:46-56).
The greatest challenge for us today is on how to turn the faith and devotion of our people to the image of the Black Nazarene into a faith and devotion that is in the service of our people; how to transform our religious rituals and ceremonies into concrete acts of mercy and compassion for our people, instead of perpetuating the same religious system that crucified the Christ; how to love God by loving others beyond the boundaries of our own families and relatives. For this is the only way that the devotion to the Black Nazarene could bring genuine transformation in our national life. # nordis.net