About the devotion to the Sto. Niño
It has been assumed of late in certain quarters, especially after Vatican Council II, that devotional practices, as distinguished from the Mass, the sacraments, and the strictly ecclesial liturgy, should be discouraged. It was assumed, long before Vatican II, by certain people, no doubt dedicated and well minded, that religion in the Philippines had early acquired and long preserved a sentimental, ritual ridden nature whose supersession was overdue. The premise and the contention underlying both assumptions are that religion, even as practiced by ordinary people, should be based on and limited to essential theology.
The results of the attempts at radical change made in the Philippines soon made the reformers realize their mistake. The present-day confused, confusing and confounding directions some theologians would have the Church take, the defections at all levels, including the priestly and religious ranks, and the puzzlement among non-Catholic which has slowed down considerably the momentum in conversions shouls make all pause and reconsider the validity of those assumptions. It would be easy to point to the emergence, as though in ironic compensation, of new forms of religious emotionalism which smack of fundamentalist revivals. No doubt, People John Paul II, as experienced in modernity as he is anchored in tradition, knows well what he is doing when he keeps speaking opportunely and, apparently, inopportunely, of the importance of the devotion to Our Blessed Mother….
Certainly, a devotion to a Saint, for instance, which becomes obsessive and drives someone to enter a church and kneel before a statue while ignoring completely the Blessed Sacrament, is radically wrong. Certainly, too, a devotion can lead to fanaticism, to unnatural practices, or to mere superstition. A devotion, too, can serve as a excuse for romp and vanity, or even as a toll for politics. But the abuse of something good cannot be construed as valid reason to get rid of the good itself.
A devotion, justified in itself, must be practiced with informed mind and faith, with sincere and honest commitment, and with a sense of proportion. What this means is not only how a devotion should be practiced but also that devotions should be practiced. We are minds and souls, but also something more: we are bodies and hearts and emotions and senses, as subject to physical pain as capable of aesthetic joy. We are expected, and required, to worship God and to perceive His visitation with our whole nature, just as the world is God’s handcraft but also the quarry from which we get the stuff for our symbols for art as well as for worship. It would be difficult for a man perception not to exult as the spark begins to light the darkness of Easter Eve; it would be strange for anyone not to be drawn towards the crib of Christmas.
Also, just as centuries ago men were talking about the “Great Chain of Being”, extending from God to nothingness through a gradated, ascending, and descending ladder of beings in between, so there is a spiritual scale between the infinity of God and the smallness of man, with our Lord Jesus Christ, the High Pontiff or Bridge-Maker, the God Who became man, spanning the abyss between God and man. We must never forget the Divinity of Christ, but logically, we found much closer to His Humanity, and this justifies the appeal, or indeed the preference, we may show for certain aspects of His Humanity when we want to approach Him. Logically, too, sand by the extension, the Blessed Mother and, to a lesser degree, the Saints may appeal to us not only as models but also as intermediaries in the expression of our devotion and our needs. Once the premises of our faith are understood, all else follows and evolves most naturally and legitimately.
The devotion to the Santo Niño, if for the moment we let pass certain flaws that may taint it somewhat, is much easier to understand and to practice than most others, and our people have shown a remarkable insight in responding so consistently to it. Touchingly human as it undoubtedly is, and very much in consonance with the deep sense of family that characterizes our life, the response s also eminently theological and firmly rooted in the Gospel. We go to the Child to find the Redeemer and the Lord, and the Lord, and we to go to Him because before God all human greatness is reduced to smallness and it was to the children that the Lord made the promise of acceptance. And unaware perhaps of the words of poets, we know well that the child is father to the man and that it is children that make the family.
The whole range of the meaning and purpose of the incarnation of Our Lord is involved in the devotion to the Holy Child; the whole extent of our sense of life and of family is engaged in our predilection for the Santo Niño. We worship the Infancy of the Lord not only because He came to the world as in infant, but also because He came to us as a people as a child. This is the manner He chose and this is the manner in which we have accepted and continue to accept Him. It is in the name of Jesus alone that grace and salvation can be granted to mankind. By calling the Lord Santo Niño, we are expressing our will not only to accept salvation in His name but also to do so not merely our of a sense of duty but our of the affection of our heart. It was the Man of Sorrows that once, on His way to Calvary, was called in derision King; it is the smiling Child in whom we recognize as King that He truly is and will forever be and Whom we wish enthroned, King of faith, of time and of eternity, in our lives and in our homes.
We know the Santo Niño to be the Son of the Father, the God made man for the redemption of the world, the God-Man hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, the Institutor of the Sacraments and the Guarantor of the grace they confer on us for our salvation, and the Jusge Who will in the end declare each one of us worthy or unworthy. We know that the image we venerate in our churches and our homes is not He, but only a symbol, a token, a reminder of the One we love and worship. And we do not for a moment forget any of these truths. But still we go before the image, day after day, at home or in church, individually or with our family or with the larger family of the faithful, knowing what the image does for us, grateful that He gave it to us as proof, as assurance of His own predilection.
We know further what the image and our devotion can do for us at other levels in various other ways, regarding the loyalties, the decency, the honor and the commitments of a man, of a woman, of a child, of a growing adolescent, the unity of a family…., when one and all must face every day, must say good night before retiring, in the presence of Santo Niño enthroned in the place of honor of a home. And we know that a society is the addition of many homes, of all the human beings that go out every day from each of those homes in which the true nature of everyone of us is most deeply shaped.
The worship of Our Lord is universal. The devotion to the Santo Niño is a Filipino modality, national in its spirits and characteristics. To live this devotion in all its richness and efficacy and to have it spread through the entire country, to every church, to every family, to every Filipino, is the purpose and main reason of the Cofradia.
From the Constitutions and By-Laws of the Cofradia del Santo Niño de Cebu (National Level)
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