Padre Mario Valenzuela was a Spanish priest who came to the Philippines in the time of Jose Rizal. He went to a faraway town on a mountain to be the parish priest of a few baptized Christians.
The previous parish priest, also a Spaniard, had to go home to Spain when he fell very ill a few weeks after he came to the town. This was the reason why most of the townsfolk did not know who the One True God was and had not been baptized.
They believed in a god who was fearsome. Unlike the One True God of Christianity, this god was not friendly to man. He was a petty tyrant.
There was a condition, though, before he’d consider granting the supplications of the people: The townsmen had to wage war with the neighboring towns!
In their secret hearts, the people of the town wished they had a good god. Of course, they never spoke of this desire, because they believed that if he heard their wish, it would be the end of the world!
Padre Mario could tell that the people were not happy. He wanted to teach them that the One True God was not vain, moody and fearsome; He was friendly, loving and good. But, what was the best way to teach this, especially to the children? He had started teaching that this good God became man, but the people reacted with laughter, because the teaching did not make sense. Even those who had been baptized and taught by the previous parish priest that the good God became a helpless and poor baby joined in the laughter. “Why would a powerful god make himself as powerless as ourselves?”
It was difficult to explain even to Insoy, a 10-year-old boy who lived with Padre Mario. Insoy was an orphan. His parents died in a war. Padre Mario took him to his home to take care of him like a son, and also to learn from him the language of the townsfolk. Though the human birth of the One True God was not easy for him to understand, Insoy was a joy to teach, because he was interested in the other lessons that Padre Mario brought to the town from Spain, such as reading and writing. But, what about the children? All they wanted to do was play and tell scary stories about the god with walking eyes!
Around Christmastime, at night, Padre Mario was musing on his problem. Suddenly, he heard a resulting sound near the jars where he kept his supplies of rice and salted pork. His heart beat fast, for the town was the heartland of the most venomous snakes of the mountain.
He removed a lighted torch from its holder on a house post, and directed its flame toward the sound. What did he see? At first, he could only make out the glowing eyes of a black creature, then he saw its tiny fangs as the creature made a hissing sound. Padre Mario froze. Was it an udto-udto, a snake whose venom could kill you slowly and painfully? Then, he chuckled when he saw a tail. The creature was a thin and starving black kitten!
Padre Mario went to the kitten to pick it up. In a flash, it scurried out of the house and vanished into the dark.
Padre Mario cried out, “Insoy, get another torch! There’s a kitten. Help me catch it.”
“Padre Mario,” Insoy said, “we would just scare it away all the more. Cats fear us humans.”
“But, I want the kitten to know that we can be friends. I want it to know that I care.”
Insoy smiled amusedly. “Padre Mario, do you really believe you can tame an iring ihalas?
“Yes, I can tame the wildest cat with love.”
Insoy couldn’t help laughing. “Padre, just leave some salted pork on the floor. The iring ihalas would get it once you’re not around.”
Padre Mario was about to say “the salted pork is too salty; goat’s milk would be better,” when a brilliant idea suddenly struck him, an experiment that had to wait till morning.
The following day, Padre Mario served some goat’s milk in a coconut shell. He put this food near the doorway of the house and stood nearby. This was experiment No 1.
Soon, the kitten showed up and approached the milk, but when it saw Padre Mario, it scampered away in horror! To it, Padre Mario was a huge monster with white bloodless skin, sea-green eyes, and black hair streaked with red fire.
So, Padre Mario carried out experiment No. 2. The outcome was fantastic! Padre Mario cried tears of joy. He knelt down before the crucifix on his altar, and said, “Lord, I have found a way to explain why the idea of a humble God isn’t crazy at all.”
He called Insoy and the other children who were playing outside his house. “Insoy, children, look at what I am holding!”
Insoy was amazed at the sight of the black kitten in Padre Mario’s arm. It was not afraid. “Padre Mario has tamed an iring ihalas!,” he exclaimed.
“How did you do it, Padre?,” a girl who was playing with a lizard asked.
Padre Mario told them about experiment No. 2.
“When I was standing tall and big near the milk which I offered to this kitten, it ran away. So, I made myself small by lying down, with my cheek on the bamboo floor. This time, this kitten, a boy by the way, went to the milk with no fear, and lapped up the milk to the last drop. I reached out and touched his head; he let me stroke his fur. In his eyes, my height was as low as his. I was no longer big and scary.”
Another girl with a flower in her hair observed, “Well, you are standing now, but the iring ihalas behaves like you’re his mother.”
Padre Mario explained: “We have become friends. The friendship had to start with me by making myself small.”
“Oh,” Insoy said, “you are now friend-to-friend, not giant-to-cat.”
“Exactly!,” Padre Mario exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “It’s the same with the One True God. He is a great, big God, but he made himself small by becoming a human being just like us. He even let himself be born as a helpless baby many, many years ago—”
“—So that we would not be afraid of him?,” Insoy asked.
The children exclaimed, “The One True God must be the good God everyone in this town desires! Let’s tell our datu, so the agong may be rung.”
The agong, which was used to make important announcements, was rang. In a few minutes, the whole town knew about the goodness of the One True God. In a few days, everyone got baptized and got ready to celebrate the birthday of God-with-us, Emmanuel, also known as Jesus. Padre Mario taught the people how to make a Christmas belen with leaves, twigs and fruits. He also taught them how to make Spanish cocido for the Christmas feast.
Nobody worried over the warning that the world would end if the fearsome god heard that he was not wanted. It didn’t. You see, this god was just the creation of the imagination of people who knew in their hearts that the One True God was friendly and good. So, when the townspeople cried out boldly on Christmas day, “Our God is handsome and good,” they meant every word they said!