BATOBALANI SA GUGMA: Between the Santo Nino and the Nazareno Negro Beyond the Crib, the Cross, the Empty Tomb

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Spiritual Reflections by Fr Roderick Salazar Jr SVD (Philippines) — January 17 2021, Feast of the Sto Nino

MAGNET OF LOVE: This is what the Visayan phrase means.

It refers to the image of the Santo Nino in Cebu, deeply loved
by our people from of old: Sa daang tawo pinalangga.
Tradition relates that it was the image given by Magellan to
Rajah Humabon in 1521 after Humabon and his wife and
their people were baptized.

With Magellan and some of his men killed by Lapulapu in
Mactan the same year, and only a few of the Spanish seamen
finding their way back to Spain, forty years would pass
before the same image would see light again.

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and his men, in 1565, having raided
many houses of the natives in the same place, found the same
image in a box apparently intact but just kept, its meaning and
significance probably lost or forgotten or just not understood.

Over the centuries, the foot-high image of the Christ Child
crowned and dressed in royal red and gold would draw the
veneration of the faithful, prompting an alert composer to see
the devotion as a Magnet of Love: Batobalani sa Gugma.

A well-loved hymn especially during the Novena Masses
leading to the Feast of the Santo Nino in Cebu on the Third
Sunday of January, sung or heard, it draws out deep
feeling and even tears especially at the refrain.

People of all walks of life, at dawn or dusk, midmorn or noon,
whether inside the Basilica Minore or outside it, in the open-air
Templete, under rain or sun or cloudy skies, bareheaded or
beneath umbrellas, everyone within sight or hearing of the Mass
would find, at a given cue, a way to raise their arms and wave
at the seen or unseen image of the Santo Nino, even as balloons
of red and gold are released like prayers to the skies.
Stanza after stanza, the song goes, recalling the origin of the
devotion. but it is the refrain that pulls the heartstrings or the
teardrops, as from the depths of soul soars the prayer:

Kanamo maluoy ka unta, nga kanimo nangilaba
Kanamo maluoy ka unta, nga kanimo nangilaba

May You deign to have mercy on us
who turn to You fervently pleading…

It is 2021 now, FIVE HUNDRED YEARS since what is recognized
as the Christianization of the Philippines though admittedly
amid dubious circumstances. What had been planned to be
a grand celebration has had to be muted because of the virus.
The hope is that by next year, Covid-19 contained, a more
joyous thanksgiving Fiesta may finally be celebrated.

In the meantime, pleas have come, from devotees as well as
from secular health authorities NOT to hold the usual open-air
Masses in the wake of the “microbio maldito”.

Thankfully, if not regretfully, the warnings have been heeded
so that the pious practice that has gone on for years may now be
mainly on-line, still open to believers to honor the Santo Nino
but this time, preferably at home praying and singing with soul.

FIESTA, after all, is the celebration of one’s FE.
And faith is nothing if it does not pour out from the heart,
whether with arms waving in the air or with palms folded in
silent prayer, and selves extended in love and service
to anyone and everyone in need.

SINULOG, too, the decades-old whole-day street dancing parade on the Fiesta Senor itself, may likewise have to yield to alternative ways of celebrating. There will be joy, I am sure, though effused differently.

Meanwhile, in Quiapo, Manila, the Black Nazarene procession had also to be reduced from the usual million participants to just a few thousands.

But the virus seems to be undaunted. In the face of vaccines finally
and thankfully produced to fight it, albeit with still unsure results, it
makes its own mutations. Oh Lord, may it finally be overcome.

I trust You. I hear You say today, as clearly as when You said
the night before You died, “In the world you will have strife.
But do not be afraid; I have conquered the world.”

Meantime, the Catholic Church, after recalling the Baptism of the Lord, has begun what is called the Ordinary Time of the Liturgical Year. The color green takes over from the white of the Christmas season.

During these early days of January, the First Reading at Holy Mass
is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel reading is from the Good News as written by Mark.

O Lord, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds me that You have really
become one of us. Where in the past, God our Father spoke
through prophets, now He has spoken through You, His own Son.
You are not ashamed to call us Your “brothers” — and “sisters”.
Thank you.

In every way, You have become one of us, that You might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate our sins. Because You Yourself were tested through what You suffered,
You are able to help us who are being tested.

And Your Holy Spirit says that if TODAY we hear Your voice

So I sing,
“Soften my heart, Lord, soften my heart,
From all indifference, set me apart.
To feel Your compassion, to weep with Your tears
soften my heart, Lord, soften my heart..”

In the Gospel that Mark wrote, we see You fully grown now,
not a Bethlehem Baby, not a Santo Nino, but the One come
to call us all to repentance, to teach us about our destination.
the Kingdom of Heaven. You would suffer, You would die
but You would rise again and continue to be with us.

We are sick, we are crippled, we are mute, we are blind, we
are lepers of our own making or we have things imposed on us,
but in all that we go through, You are there, healing, comforting,
assuring us that we are not alone. Thank You.

You call Your disciples to follow You. Simple men, fishermen,
a tax collector. To the scandal of those who think themselves
holy and thus the people You should mix with, You would rather
be with the sinners, for after all, You say, that was why You
became one of us., to redeem us.
You call me. Please help me to follow You.

And You teach me that even in the midst of Your busy-ness,
of Your preaching and healing and comforting, You take time
to PRAY. You do not neglect the time to be with Your Father.

Oh, Lord, let me not miss this picture of You: PRAYING.
Let this be the magnet that draws me and makes me cling to You.

I may not now be able to raise my arms with the Santo Nino
throngs at the designated cue of the well-loved song,
but where I am, I look to You and promise:

“With these hands, I will cling to You,
I’m Yours forever and a day..
with this heart I will sing to You
long after stars have lost their glow..
I’ll never let You go… “

Or better yet, You hold me, please.


Please, please,, don’t ever let me go…


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