Devotion to Nazareno means heeding Christ's teachings.
One of the largest spectacles of the Catholic faith happens today with the Feast of the Black Nazarene, highlighted by the Traslacion when a carriage bearing the dark-skinned statue of Christ inches its way from Luneta to Quiapo Church.
Tourists at the Manila Hotel are always amazed seeing barefoot devotees cramped in a sea of humanity surging and jostling to be near the image of our suffering Messiah carrying a heavy cross, with back unbent, and struggling to rise from a half kneeling stance - a symbol of hope for those of us with unwavering faith in God.
The multitude of devotees lining the procession route, impervious to hunger, fatigue, and injuries, is an amazing sight indeed. For non-devotees, the yearly frenzy during Traslacion may seem fanatical, or even irrational, but behavioral experts link the phenomenon to many Filipinos' interpretation of suffering like Christ, "of doing something to avail oneself of His mercy."
The Traslacion frenzy might seem to defy logic, but before cynics dismiss it as a pagan ritual, they could try to find enlightenment in the Biblical story (Luke 7:36-50) of a sinful woman who wets with her tears, wipes with her hair, and pours expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus who tells her, "Your sins are forgiven; your faith has saved you."
Grasping the power of God's mercy helps one understand the intense devotions to the Black Nazarene trying to comprehend what we Filipinos term as "Awa ng Diyos" could enlighten one on the reasons for our existence, and why blessings come our way in various times in our lives, even when all our sinfulness makes us undeserving of such blessings.
But should the intensity of our desire to avail of God's mercy justify all the frenzy? Or, to put it another way, does the frenzy make us avail of His mercy?
In the Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno Hymn which every ardent devotee knows, National Artist Lucio San Pedro had put in the lyrics: "Sinasamba Ka namin, pinipintuho Ka namin, aral Mo'y aming buhay at kaligtasan." Indeed, every time we sing the hymn, we proclaim to Jesus that "we worship Thee, we admire Thee; Thy teachings are our life and salvation."
Yes, Christ's teachings ought to guide us in our lives. But none of His teachings tell devotees to act rudely, wildly, crazily over His wooden image and exhibit what's termed as "macho fanaticism, misplaced revelry and unnecessary risks that have become a popular but deeply flawed measure of piety."
His teachings are on humility and patience -- which explain why most devotees are barefoot and why many of us endure long hours of queuing for the Pahalik, that fleeting moment we get to touch the foot of Christ's black statue.
But why do many devotees wear their faith like a badge -- proudly, yet sometimes recklessly, and put themselves and fellow devotees at great risk of injury or even death, when our Lord's teachings do not require such? Why the frantic need to elbow one's way and leap over others to mount the Nazarene carriage on a particular day when the statue is accessible all-year-round at Quiapo Church?
"We remain fixated with icons, with the physical representations than the meanings behind them. We struggle to get the rituals right in order to avoid bad luck, while showing little discipline, if any, in the daily practice of a virtuous life," a sociologist once explained.
"Thy teachings are our life and salvation" as the hymn goes, yet living the ideal life of a devout Catholic can be difficult as expressed by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in a 2012 homily when he admonished devotees from seeking forgiveness on the day of the Feast of the Black Nazarene, only to return to their sinful ways the very next day.
And many foreign observers are bewildered on how an intense display of piety and religious fervor every January 9 can be reconciled or blended with a culture of corruption thatcontinues to plague Philippine society.
Cardinal Tagle had put it precisely: "Let us show our love and devotion to the Black Nazarene by praying to God and not forgetting to help our fellowmen, following Christ's teachings as guiding principles of our lives, and glorifying God's greatness and love for mankind through our good deeds."
Christ's teachings focus on the two greatest commandments. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus tells us: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
And, as I've said in my previous Christmas column, to truly love God and our neighbor as ourselves, we need to utilize our time, talent, and treasure to serve others, especially as we perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.To truly love is to truly serve. Love without service is nothing. Loving and serving go hand in hand. Otherwise, love is meaningless.
Thus, following Christ's teachings to serve others certainly reflects one's deep devotion to Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno.
Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator