A Quest

understanding reconstructions in life

Getting to Know Pepe

I have taken for granted knowing who Jose Rizal really is. Yes, he’s our National Hero, a Pride of the Malay race. He was a doctor, a taxonomist, a scholar, a hero. He wrote two novels and several poems. He’s a poet at the age of eight years old. He was a diligent student. He travelled to study, he wanted to free the Philippines from the oppressors, and because of that, he was exiled in Dapitan, held captive in Fort Santiago, wrote his last poem in his cell, hid it in the lamp, which he handed over to one of his sisters. He was born 19th June, 1861, martyred at 35, being shot in Bagumbayan on the 30th of December, 1896. He was portrayed by numerous artists, one is Cesar Montano in making a film about the his life under GMA films. Since he’s the national hero, his life needs to be studied by every Filipino.

I thought his life was just about the things I mentioned. I was wrong. I realized I only knew what he did. But I never knew what his motivations are, what are his thoughts, what really urges his love for the country, his beliefs, etcetera. I realized I have taken him for granted, not looking deeper into his personality. In fact, I now find him a really interesting person. There’s a lot more to Jose Rizal that I need to know about.

More Rizal

The first time I was intrigued by him was when I got hold of a book last May by Eugene Hessel entitled “The Religious Thought of Jose Rizal.” What could have Rizal thought of religion, of faith, especially with the nature of his novels? Upon scanning the book, I learned that Rizal probably got his first novel’s title Noli Me Tangere from John 20:17, which says, “Do not hold on to me.” The famous English title of the said novel was “Touch me not.” I was so amazed by it that I shared it to everybody I saw that day, even the up to the following days of that week. I was so amazed that even if Hessel also said that it might have been really from the name of a cancer during Rizal’s time. If it’s the case, it seems logical too, since he discussed various “social cancers” in his novels. But as you can say, a person will believe what he wants to believe.

Further in the book, I learned that he had a correspondence to a Jesuit named Fr. Pastella. During those times, I didn’t know who Fr. Pastella is. I was further amazed at who Jose Rizal was when I read what he wrote to Fr. Pastella:

“Nevertheless, in spite of the difficulty of giving God an adequate name, I believe God to be infinitely wise, perfect and good. But then, my idea of the infinite is imperfect and confused, considering the wonders of His works, the order that governs that shines through all of them. The their overwhelming magnificence and extent, and the goodness that shines through all of them. The lucubration of a poor worm, the least of all creatures on this tiny ball of earth, can never offend His inconceivable majesty however crazy they may be. The very thought of Him overpowers me, makes my mind reel, and every time my reason tries to lift up its eyes to that Being, it falls dazzled, bewildered, overwhelmed. Fear seizes me, and I resolve to keep silent…with this vague but irresistible feeling pervading my whole being before the inconceivable, the divine, the infinite, I leave its study to clearer minds.”

I was filled with awe at what I discovered about Rizal. I never knew this side of him, or rather, this side of him was never discussed.

As I go further along in the discovery of his life, I learned a few things that really confuses but interests me at the same time. It was said that Rizal was a mason. I have little idea what masons are, or the freemasons are, I just knew that they were the ones who was supposed to be a secret society, but not much, really. I Googled it, and learned that freemasons believe in a Supreme Being, period. And rather than being a secret society, it is a society with secrets.

I don’t understand this fully, there’s a lot of things to be learned. Further reading of Rizal’s biography revealed to me that he indeed embraced a God, but because of the situation of the Philippines during his time (abusive friars, among others), he was not Catholic. Being a mason, he believed in a Supreme Being, and this just leaves me wondering more than ever how he sees that Supreme Being.

A letter to his family just before leaving for Dapitan (July 14, 1892) describes his faith in God:

“I am leaving this evening or tomorrow for Dapitan, where I am being banished. I go gladly knowing that the General grants you freedom, and because I believe that wherever I might go I should always be in the hands of God who holds in them the destinies of men.”

A true scholar

While in Dapitan, Rizal exchanged correspondence with his family. One such letter induced in me more curiosity as to how Rizal’s whole perspective on things. In his letter to his nephew Alfredo Hidalgo on December 20, 1893, he said:

“…Go ahead, then; study, study and think over well what you have studied; life is a very serious matter, and only those who have brains and a heart have a good life. To live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle. But this struggle is not an animal, material struggle, nor is it a struggle only with other men; it is a struggle with them but also with one’s self, with their passions but also with one’s own, with errors and anxieties. It is an eternal struggle (which one must sustain) with a smile on one’s lips, and tears in the heart. In this battlefield, a man has no better weapon than his intelligence, no greater strength than that of his own heart.”

I was thinking about this part of his letter on my way home, and I liked the way Rizal said that “to live is to be among men, and to be among men is to struggle,” and that the struggle includes a struggle within. This affirms my belief that struggles are part of life, that it is more comforting to know that one is struggling than not, especially within the self, because when there is no longer a struggle, this means that one has given up growing–living.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder why Rizal thought that it is an “eternal struggle which one must sustain.” Until when shall one sustain this struggle? Eternity, for me, speaks of heaven, of life with Jesus. God’s promise of eternity is rest in His loving embrace. Obviously, at this point, I believe a different thing than Rizal. He said that there is no better weapon then his intelligence and no greater strength than his heart. But I’m afraid I don’t agree with him, on these points. In this battlefield, our best weapon is prayer, and there is no greater strength than the strength the Spirit of God graces us with.

Thinking and analyzing further what Rizal wrote, I understand why he placed intelligence and heart. A man’s intelligence, at that time, is correlated with the education he received. As we all know, Rizal’s solution to the cancers of society is intelligence. To battle this cancer, one must study, gain knowledge, develop his intelligence. However, intelligence alone cannot completely cure the “social cancer” that plagues the people. A passionate heart, with strong convictions of achieving the goal of freedom is also needed. Looking at Rizal, he did exemplify these characteristics: of gaining knowledge, thus using his intelligence as weapon to the plague that eats the Filipino people, and being true to what he writes by coming back to his Mother land amidst al the danger, showing the strength of his heart, of his determination to free the Filipino people from oppressions.

I am just starting to get to know Rizal. I look forward going further along this road and discover more about Dr. Jose Rizal whom the world adores and respects, the pride of the Malay race.


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