Devotions in the Catholic Faith

21 January 2007: Feast of the Sto. Niño
Mark 10, 13-16 Devotions in the Catholic Faith

The Sto. Niño has different looks: the best in sportswear (with a baseball cap and jerseys), the best in gown (with a long gold gown and a scepter), the best in national costume (with camisa de chino and red pants), and the best in skin-wear (the nude Sto. Niño sold in Quiapo Church as featured by ABS-CBN). Are we bordering on the ridiculous, the superstitious, or the plain naive?

So I guess today is one appropriate time to talk about devotions. There are varied reactions to devotions to the Sto. Niño and to others as well.. Many have uncomfortable reactions to devotions. Though expressions of popular piety have long been part of being Catholic, many people especially the educated see these devotions as inconsistent with a mature faith, overly reliant on things --- beads, medals, scapulars --- and even superstitious. For some, devotions are to be avoided, and not embraced. Why would you wipe the whole statue of a saint with a handkerchief when the statue is dusty? Why are there people who actually treat a statue like a person; thus the Sto. Niño is treated like a child? We put candies on the altar; and there are stories of people seeing the Sto. Niño play with children.

On the other hand, devotions did not lose their appeal to older Catholics who remember their youth with affection. For example, the older UPSCANs who have stayed in this church since it was built, fondly remember reciting the Rosary with family and fellow students, attending novenas and singing special songs. Or who would forget wearing the Miraculous Medal on October or receiving a scapular from someone? Present surveys are saying that there is now a renewed rise in devotions from the young who are seeking something “tactile, colorful, exotic,” and “a sense of mystery in their lives.” Thus, in the pockets of the young are rosary beads, a cross, and a small picture of a saint in their wallets. When I was a teacher, we told our students in Ateneo schools to have a rosary in their pocket. Our Catholic faith marks Ateneans.

Vatican II says that though devotions played a very important role in the spread of the faith, devotions should be seen as flowing from and leading back to liturgy, the central form of worship in the Church. Vatican II “warmly commends” the practice of devotions, but it warns against devotions taking the place of the mass. We hear this remark, “nagrosary naman ako, di ko na kailangang mag-simba.” Or we see people not participating at mass because they are too busy flipping their novenas or praying the rosary. The Church tells us that devotions are subordinate to the Mass. The Church does not discourage these practices, but tells us that popular piety and the Liturgy are “two forms of worship which are in mutual and fruitful relationship with each other.” Thus these devotions can move us into prayer and contemplation, comfort us in times of suffering or confusion, encourage us to care for others, bring us to appreciate Scripture more fully, and with the saints, give us good examples of living Christian lives. The most important thing is that devotions lead us to become closer to the very center of our faith: Jesus Christ.

Therefore, the feast of the Sto. Nino is an anniversary and a commemoration of an event. We celebrate the coming of our faith in the Philippines in the 16th century. When it came with the first Spaniards, that faith was still young --- like a child. Genuine regard to the Sto. Niño today should be thud be seen in the light of growth and maturation. Jesus did not remain a child; the Gospel tells us that He has grown in “wisdom, age and favor of God.”

So ask this questions: Does your devotion to the Sto. Niño and to any particular saint help you mature in wisdom, age and favor in the eyes of God and fellow persons? Does it help you know Jesus more closely? Does it make you holier? Does it make you a better person? Does it enrich and increase your appreciation of the liturgy? Has the Christian faith in the Philippines mature since it was first planted? If not, perhaps, you can look at your statue of the Sto. Niño and your collection of costumes, and re-think: Maybe you do not need Jesus. Maybe you actually need a doll.

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