Over at Extra Nos, my Lutheran friend Lito blogs about the feast of the Black Nazarene, which is celebrated by thousands in Manila every year.
This sort of devotion is not my cup of tea, but I would not cast this as a bad form of devotion, as such. It may be a reflex for me to do so, some part of my mind pigeonholes this as superstition, but that would be too broad a brush. I have no doubt that many if not most of these devotees are truly devoted to Christ, gratefully see him as their savior, and strive as best they can to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. No doubt, there would be some, too, who would go through the motions and devotions, then go back to living lives contrary to the gospel. The need to deny themselves is no different to my need to deny myself daily; we are all sinners.
Devotions like these remind me of the woman whose bleeding stopped when she touched the edge of the Lord's garments (Luke 8:43-48). That, too, smacked of something superstitious, but the Lord does not hold that against her, and uses it for her benefit.
I have never and will probably never go to the Black Nazarene feast celebrations. But I do rejoice that so many would at least seek refuge in Christ our savior, and pray along with them for fortitude in tribulations and blessings of any sort that come from Him.
As for me, I will seek the Lord's healing, so that I should never, in pride, look down on those whose faith is simpler than my impression of mine. Their theology may indeed be different: down on bended knees more than with books, but who am I to say that theirs is not true faith that comes from the Holy Spirit working in them?
The bishops in the Philippines have responded to two tragic deaths during the massive procession Wednesday last week, by inviting people to rethink their faith, while careful not to judge them:
Msgr. Pedro Quitorio, spokesperson of the said Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said the tragedy meant that the Church may need to bring Filipino Catholics to a more “mature” level of faith.
This is the kind of faith that knows that it is in loving one’s neighbor and living the Gospel that a person is brought nearer to God’s blessings rather than the touching of a miraculous image of Jesus, said Quitorio.
He said a deep understanding of one’s faith will help a person understand that God’s blessings will not depend on the touching of a miraculous image but on how one lives out the gospel of God.
Quitorio clarified, however, that Church officials are not passing judgment on the kind of faith espoused by the majority of Filipinos, which strongly believes that by simply touching a miraculous image of Christ or that of a saint will grant a wish or a prayer.
“That is their level of conviction. They believe that if they touch the image they will have good lives, they will be healed of their sickness. We respect this. We don’t judge these acts,” said Quitorio.