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Rizal 101: Remembering the man

Today’s generation may see Rizal as an idea, a symbol, an epitome of national pride, excellence and patriotism. But this idea may either prosper or die in vain.

As we move to a sophisticated, more technologically advanced time, everything changes. Every teaching is ultimately tested by a criterion known as pragmatism. An idea can only survive the challenges of time if its concept can be translated into actions, result-driven and predictable.

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So, how about Rizal and his teachings? How can they prosper and last? How can they influence the fate of our nation? How can we ensure that his legacy is remembered?

As we commemorate and celebrate his birthday every June 19 and his martyrdom every Dec. 30, we need to ask: Have we turned into blind followers or, worse, ignorant followers? Do we celebrate because we understand his writings and teachings? Do we commemorate because we emulate him?

Or do we admire the man just because it feels good to be part of this national consciousness?

Has Rizal Day become just a day of ritual wreath-offering?

Does Renato Constantino’s “Veneration without Understanding” ring true in our case?

How many of us have read his novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo”? How many Filipinos have dissected the meaning of his last poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios”? Have we really understood what he fought for through his works and writings? Some will even argue that he never “fought,” as he was not a revolutionary man like Bonifacio but a reformist.

Do we really know him? And if we know him, do we follow him?

Knowing Rizal is different from “doing” Rizal. Knowledge may blossom, but wisdom is rare.

It is time to examine our national consciousness, particularly how we identify ourselves and our sense of nationhood with this man we profess to admire.

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There is no harm in admiring this hero. But the challenge is to live as Filipinos according to Rizal’s teachings.

Who really is Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal? This is the question every Filipino should seek and understand. How we see him is how we see our country.

Rizal was rational. A man of intellect and high integrity.

He was a seeker of knowledge. Rizal was prepared to question authority and the Church.

Rizal was a reflective man. He translated his ideas  into voluminous words and writings.

Rizal was an action man. He was not idle. Wherever he went, he achieved great things.

We Filipinos who say we admire him and take pride as the heirs of his heroism: Do we seek knowledge? Do we question authority, even that of the Church? Do we love to read and write? Do we help our fellow Filipinos and contribute to our society?

We need to be truthful to the Rizalian cause. It is a challenge. It is a must that we read his works. For how can we know him if we haven’t read any of his writings?

Thus, a pragmatic issue is at hand. Will his works become obsolete? Will the new generation find joy reading his novels amid the onslaught of technology? Rizal’s life and teachings will fade if we will fail to commit to study and follow him.

Rizal’s love for his country  was eternal and sublime. Let this legacy remain vibrant in each Filipino.

A challenge, then, for all of us: Before we pay our respects to him and offer flowers at his statue, let us nurture the hunger to seek out and learn from his writings and ideas. Then, let us strive to follow his example, in words and in deeds.

May his ideas become alive in all of us. Let them not die in vain.

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Rado Gatchalian is from Dagupan City, Pangasinan. He moved to Sydney, Australia, in 2006. He is currently the vice president of the Philippine Community Council of New South Wales, the peak body of Filipino groups in NSW. He writes poetry and regularly contributes to The Philippine Community Herald Newspaper, a Sydney-based newspaper. He is an ardent admirer of Rizal.

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