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Today is one of the merriest, noisiest, fun-filled religious festivals in the Philippines. Carrying the image of the Holy Infant Jesus, locally known as Santo Nino, the Cebuanos cry out: Pit Senyor! (We call on you, Lord!), the Ilonggos shout: Hala Bira! (Go for it; do not be afraid!), and Manilenos intone: Mabuhay, Viva Santo Nino! (Long Live the Christ Child!).

We celebrate this feast so close to the heart and the Catholic imagination – the Feast of the Christ Child. While other countries resume the Sunday of Ordinary Time, we have a special permission to recapture the Christmas spirit by dwelling on the divine childhood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

And just a few days back we saw the hordes of devotees in the procession of the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, an ancient miraculous image of the Suffering Christ.

Now, suddenly why the focus on these images? On the one hand, the Christ Child; on the other, the Nazarene? While we Catholics rarely give this a thought, many of our brothers and sisters who do not belong to our Church do not understand, even misunderstand why we give importance to images. They say images were banned in the Bible. They say images make us idol-worshippers.

Yes, images were banned in the Bible, because the Jews were in danger of following the practices of the pagans who adored representations of men and animals. But God himself ordered that images be fashioned if these can help direct attention to the true worship of God. Just read about the brazen serpent in Num 21:9 or the cherubim (angels) over the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25. So the commandment against images was not absolute, as it was understood by the Jews and some other Christians today.

On Christmas day, we recall that by becoming human, God showed us and gave us his own image, Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).

When we use images, we do not worship these representations but they serve as reminders of God, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. Yes, we treasure some of these images because of the powerful way they remind us of God and bring our attention to God. No Catholic will deny that these images are truly wood, fiberglass, cement or plaster. And we do not adore them. But we value them for the reminder they give to us. We need reminders all around us, specially at a time when the only images we see in the streets, magazines and internet are those showing violence, sex and commercialism.

Of course, not all Catholics rightly practice their devotions. Some are mistaken and must be corrected. The Church seeks to always educate people toward the truth. Let the Santo Nino devotion remind us of the humility, the gentleness, the seriousness of God in loving us, for this is the meaning of this day. May our devotion make us follow the Lord. May the image of the Christ Child lead us to our true spirit of sons and daughters in the family of God.