Saturday, January 04, 2014
December 31 marks the martyrdom of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. In his famous last poem, he ended with the memorable statement: Morir es descansar! (To die is to rest!)
Dying at the young age of 35, Rizal must have borne the great burden of a nation’s struggle for independence weighing upon his shoulders since the time his older brother, Paciano, told him when he was still a student at the University of Santo Tomas, that the fight for freedom required a leader with great intellectual capacity, a quality the younger Rizal had exhibited. Thus, Paciano sent Jose to study in Spain, far away from the vicious hands of the Spanish friars, while he remained in Calamba to support his brother’s studies as well as the struggle for freedom in the islands.
Indeed, Rizal enjoyed great freedom in Spain, giving vent to his artistic and political expressions both to his fellow freedom-fighters and their common host. Those fiery views eventually found their way to his homeland through his two books – Noli and Fili, the principal weapons he wielded against Spain -- which made him a dangerous enemy of the Spaniards and which led to his execution at their hands.
His seemingly self-imposed commitment to achieve independence for his country somehow negated Rizal’s own personal freedom. He essentially gave up his rightful fulfilment of his own marital future, his career, his familial duties and even his business opportunities. He travelled around the globe while trying to avoid any amorous commitment as he had betrothed himself to his country and his people. It was only when he was exiled in Dapitan that he finally escaped extreme loneliness and married Josephine Bracken – against the wishes of his family and without the blessings of the Catholic Church. Yet, in spite of that brief marital relief, he chose to serve as a surgeon in Cuba, a wish which was cut short when he was implicated in the Katipunan revolt and eventually sentenced to die as its alleged figurehead. No, he was not escaping family duty but was egged on by his solemn oath to serve his people. The relief he could give as a doctor to wounded soldiers was his way of finding relief for himself.
Rizal also gave up his lucrative occupation as an ophthalmologist in Hong Kong in order to return home and face his enemies in a bid to show them that Filipinos knew how to sacrifice for their land. He also went against his mother’s and his sisters’ pleadings to avoid a confrontation with the Spanish authorities by going home to Manila. Lastly, he gave up his own vision of establishing a new colony in Sandakan in order to save his town mates who had been disenfranchised of their lands in Calamba, Laguna. It was an enterprise that would have made Rizal and his family not just wealthy but also powerful, as North Borneo would eventually become an oil-rich country.
All these, Rizal gave up as he was focused on his goal to show his enemies he was fighting not for himself alone but for a people, a nation enslaved for four centuries. He knew it was time for that nation to be set free. In the same way that Lincoln, at about the same time, knew the African-American slaves should be freed, Rizal labored to make that same freedom become a reality for all Filipinos. Both men were killed by the real tyrants who tried to deny them the freedom to grant rest to their people.
Morir es descansar! Rizal felt that at his youthful age, he had carried more than the weight any person could carry for a lifetime. Death was the only resolution to his great challenge. And death was the only solution the enemy saw to eliminate a man who had set his sights on liberating his nation with all his might. Thus, in and through his death, he triumphed over his enemies.
The Katipunan, of course, took a different path to freedom. Armed struggle, with the view to destroy the enemy by force, was a course inherited from the nations in Europe which had gained victory against their own oppressors. Rizal, seeing his own death as but a small contribution to the many lives offered at the altar of freedom, met his own destiny while bearing his own unique world view that people today either view as a clear vindication or a mere compromise.
A hero can be both a hero and a villain at the same time – whether to an enemy or to a friend. Alive or dead, we will always have enemies who will both fear or respect us for our principles. Best way to deal with them is to willingly bear the vision given to us and to share it with as many people who can benefit from it and will share it with others. To those who see no value in the sacrifice, all we can hope for is rest from their unbelieving eyes and minds.
And so, even after Rizal’s death, the enemy would plant stories and fake evidences that he recanted or that he did not remain faithful to the ideals he set for himself. An idealist lives and dies by the ideals he or she has labored hard to unravel and to abide by in life. To die and be unfaithful to those ideals is to become unworthy of the years spent in learning through pain in achieving those ideals. This is what Rizal meant when he accused his enemies of denying his people the glory of patriotism or love of country that is a birthright by virtue of the inherent freedom a nation has before the arrival of colonizers.
If Rizal were to see our land today, he would not only roll in his grave but will be so restless as to wish to die a thousand deaths if only to exorcise the millions of demons who have replaced the many demons he fought during his lifetime.
But Rizal is dead. He has rested from his labours. What can we, the living and the suffering and a people also in need of precious rest, do for ourselves and our children?
It is not to die in order to rest also, as Rizal did and seems to teach us even today. Our duty today is to live now and to rest now as well.
Rizal’s death is now our own. We celebrate it yearly even if we do not really appreciate or understand it. Rizal’s struggles are our own. We live them every single day by our own desire to live worthy of his own unselfish offering for us. Rizal’s rest is, then, finally our own. It is a legacy he and the rest of our heroes bequeathed us.
We must live as if we do have that rest from our struggles and our sufferings. For in the end, it is not Rizal who saves us or who saved us. It is God Who gives us rest from our own enemies.
Many impassioned people today live and labor in order to offer their body and soul for their chosen cause and, if needed, to die for it. They experience the pressure and the burden that they have chosen to accept freely as an expression of their love and adoration for their God or the goals that they deem worthy of their sacrifice. As Rizal did, many today likewise live and look forward to a peaceful rest from a life of complete toil and full-giving.
Think of our workers here and overseas who sweat and strain to support families and the entire nation. They all need not merely the rest of energizing sleep and the uplifting contentment of a future prosperous, peaceful life but the complete, refreshing rest of burdened laborers in the land of the living.
This is the rest, this is the refreshing Isaiah prophesied for our times and for all time (Isaiah 28:12). Hammargeah (rest or refreshing) is a divine reward we have been blessed with and which we must savor for Him and for ourselves. This is an unending life of rest He commanded humans to have (Psalm 133:3). Without His own rest from His work of Creation, we will never attain our own rest from our own toils.
Yes, God, if we remember, sent His own Son to finally grant us the rest that He Himself first granted Himself and set as a legacy for all after He had created all things. His rest – the Sabbath – had been established as a law, as a reality, as a need and as an inviolable destiny for humans and all of God’s handiwork. When His people misunderstood or misused it, He reminded them in so many drastic or tragic ways. In that temporary, child-training mode, God showed how this concept of rest is part and parcel of and a prime ideal in His dealings with Nature and with Humans.
When Christ finally triumphed over His enemies – including death – eternal rest was established and then proclaimed by His disciples. Rest (as Noah’s name connotes) had been given and reinstituted as a reality through the renewal of the Earth after the Great Flood. And yet, sin abounded after that cataclysmic display of divine power.
Today, people still refuse this divine theme of rest for all. Rizal saw it and received it upon his death. He yearned for it through his own youthful energy in pursuit of change – a final relief from a reign of unrest over people. Whereas Rizal wrote Morir es descansar, we must live the words our Lord brought to us: Vivir es descansar! To live is to rest in God! Death is also a choice; but the rule is for us to live in God’s abiding peace today and for always. Death may and will come; but the rest God promised can be ours at this moment.
As Christians, we must live as if we truly live in the promised rest of God. That is, just as the Israelites felt and lived at rest in the Promised Land after leaving the wilderness, we must work to make our world no longer a wilderness but a restful place where God truly reigns.
Hence, as Rizal desired, we must seek that place where God alone reigns and where faith does not kill. Our land can only be a land of faith and rest if we, as believers, live and rest in the might of God.
Vivir es Descansar! May this be our theme for the New Year 2014 and onward.
Manariwa! (Be Refreshed!)
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
(Photo above: Rizal Monument at Luneta Park -- courtesy of Google.com)