The cultural context of the Black Nazarene

Posted by watchmen
January 10, 2018
Posted in OPINION
The translacion of the Black Nazarene is monumental history in the Philippines. I call it monumental history because the devotees’ desperation for help, depicted through their fervent devotion, shows they have no one else to hold on to except Him. Faith is a vital part of people’s everyday life considering this has been in practice since 1606.
The past monumental greatness of the Black Nazarene was an inspiration that enforced the idea, when people unite, they can move mountains; it assured people they could attain greatness. It is the very reason people still participate in the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
The symbolic event portrays the life of a Filipino struggling with daily life, where only faith can provide comfort. It also explained the expression “Bahala na ang Diyos, or offering their problems and pleas to God based on His will and promise to His people.
Pre-Spanish tradition
During the translacion, or the procession of the Black Nazarene, devotees are whipped into a frenzy upon touching the image or throwing towels to those positioned near the image and waiting for them to use it to wipe the image. They say a towel wiped on the face of the Black Nazarene can cure illness if wiped on the body; some claim it serves as ‘anting-anting’ for their jeepney, while others say it is their “panata,” or an expression of faith.
The practice of wiping religious images is not a practice of Spanish friars, it originates from pre-Spanish traditions. In Benguet, the Igorot mummified their loved ones after they passed but, prior to that, the remains sat in a sangachil, or death chair. They would smoke the body, which they believed was hygienic, and the last sweat that came off the body would be wiped and used to transfer the power of the dead, particularly to elders, who they believed possessed wisdom.
The pre-Spanish Filipinos were tactile and needed to touch things in order to connect with the spirits. Today, the practice is called syncretism.
Not idolatry, but an expression of faith
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines idolatry as “the worship of a physical object as a god,” which is similar to the Smith’s Bible Dictionary definition, which considers it “the worship of deity in a visible form, whether the images to which homage is paid are symbolical representations of the true God or of the false divinities which have been made the objects of worship in his stead.”
Based on accounts of the reformist, Catholics practice idolatry when it comes to the Black Nazarene. However, Catholic teachings oppose idolatry, as it follows the definition laid out in Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566), which characterized idolatry as “worshipping idols and images as God, or believing that they possess any divinity or virtue entitling them to our worship, by praying to, or reposing confidence in them.”
“Idolatry is a perversion of man’s innate religious sense,” the literature went on to discuss. “An idolater is someone who ‘transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God.’”
The church absolutely recognizes and condemns idolatry but what the anti-Catholic fails to recognize is the distinction between thinking a piece of stone or plaster is a god and desiring to visually remember Christ and the saints in heaven by making statues in their honor.
God forbids pagan gods like Baal and the golden calf; He even instructed Moses to carve angels, according to Exodus 25:17-22 and Numbers 21:8. At the time, pagan gods were forbidden as it was big business utilizing gold, silver, and bronze. Today, in the 21st century, life is different. The gift of communication allows man to connect with the true living God, which cannot be seen. While not all humans are able to grasp abstract thought, we use our senses to understand the material objects that provide hope.
It is an act of faith – the devotees’ expression of faith. They are not worshipping the image, but the person beyond the image.
Translacion as ‘Bayanihan’
Recent media footage shows the chaos ensuing from the Black Nazarene; although, if you experience it firsthand, it is an organized chaos. Some look at it in a condescending manner but these devotees are conducting a sort of “bayanihan” because they are participating in a procession to help others and paving the way for other who want to come in contact with the image.
It is not chaotic, but rather an exemplary example of how Filipinos help each other in times of need. It is the living custom and values of Filipinos. Bayanihan is galvanized in religious belief when people stand as one and endorse what the church exemplifies during national issued surrounding human rights.
Love and understanding instead of judging
For those who do not understand the importance of the event, and even mocking believers, those actions are where divisions in society stem. One always wants to be recognized as superior, while labeling the other as inferior; one wishes to be considered clean, while the other is seem as dirty.
We cannot achieve unity in a dichotomic society. However, we can achieve unity through love and understanding – what Jesus exemplified in his teachings. Love and understanding beget respect.
The cultural tradition of the Nazarene is not celebrated just in our country but around the world. It is culture that goes beyond the image and we should not judge because our belief is different from them. Stop establishing a superior idea and start to understand that we are not the only ones in this world. There is something bigger than ourselves and and that is the culture outside of our context.
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