By FR. ROLANDO DELA ROSA
Last Wednesday, before I began my noon Mass at Santo Domingo Church, a Parishioner asked me: “Today is the Feast of the Black Nazarene, WHEREcan people experience God’s presence more deeply – in this quiet church or in the Black Nazarene procession?”
I suggested that she better rephrase the question into something like this: “WHEN do we experience God’s presence more deeply?” Changing “where” to “when” helps us realize that God is not confined to a particular place where we must go.
God is everywhere. Whether we are in a quiet church, or joining the Black Nazarene procession, whether we are in our room or busy workplace, in the car, bus, or train, we can experience deeply God’s presence. Problem is, when we are in a place, but not in the moment, we miss out.
God is in the moment. We seize that moment when we become profoundly conscious that God is not a deity up there looking at us from a distance, or just an object of pious prayers and obligation, but someone who touches our lives deeply, transforming it in such a way that we feel we are never the same again. Such a “God moment” happens regardless of where we are.
I consider the almost 24-hour procession of the Black Nazarene as one prolonged God moment for the devotees, igniting their passion to praise God with their bare feet bloodied by hours of walking, and their sweat-soaked bodies pushed here and there by the massive force of a million other bodies.
Their God moment spins out into selfless acts of generosity, good will, and repentance, some of which are shown on television—like one woman providing thousands of devotees free food that she herself had prepared; a man raining down thousands of peso bills on the devotees from his balcony as his way of sharing his good fortune with others; a young man swearing that he would turn his back on drugs and vice; a husband vowing to love his wife and family more; and a teenage girl promising to give up her texting, surfing, and selfie addiction.
True, some devotees consider the Black Nazarene as their personal magician who would work miracles if they touched it, or if they wiped their handkerchief or towels on any part of the image. Some jump into the swirling wave of devotees’ bodies to achieve an emotional high. And some think that joining the procession brings instant healing, prosperity, success, and good cheer.
But millions of Black Nazarene devotees remain staunch believers, not because of material benefits they have received or hope to receive. The annual procession is their God moment, during which they become a community of weak, fragile, and struggling people who have been transformed by their faith, and enabled to bear great burdens with astonishing grace and courage.
As always, there are those who condescendingly regard the Black Nazarene devotion as an exaggerated display of religious fervor, bordering on fanaticism, idolatry, superstition, and primitive folk religiosity. They insist that religion must be expressed in a restrained, cultured, and rational manner.
They may be right as regards religion. But faith is a different thing. Faith belongs to the Black Nazarene devotees in a way that those cultured despisers could only obscurely imagine.