La Naval, Edsa, Rizal and heroism
Heroism has become too big for the contemporary Filipino youth; and they, too small for it. Most of their so-called heroes no longer come from history books, but from comic books. They adore superheroes and mythological characters brought to life by movies. They fanatically follow fashion, music, business, entertainment and sports celebrities.
But we cannot blame them for this. After all, what most young people today see is not heroism, but heroics. They see the heroics of politicians who can outpromise, outtalk, out-buy, or out-outrage their opponents and still appear decent and respectable; the heroics of criminals whose lawless exploits are set up by movies for the youth to emulate; the heroics of entrepreneurs and tycoons who pile up money and privileges that have become the measure of social acceptability; and the heroics of perverts who, because of their overwhelming number, make it appear that being abnormal is the new normal.
But since heroism is inherently human, it is safe to assume that there remains the spark of heroism in the hearts of the youth. Perhaps they must stop looking outside for someone to ignite that spark. They must rather look into themselves and realize that they have the resources to become the real heroes for our time.
According to a survey on contemporary youth conducted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, the Filipino youth still believe that one of their greatest resources is their faith. Notably, Jose Rizal, our national hero, expressed the same belief when he wrote: “If we want progress for our country, let us work together, and instead of useless lamentations, of disconsolate complaints, or accusations and excuses, let us build together by beginning with the simplest, the basic foundation of progress which is faith.”
Rizal had the conviction that faith is not magic, or an escape from problems, or the assurance of instant healing or riches. True faith regards God as really GOD, not a crutch. Prayer is an affirmation that since we are made after the image of an all-powerful God, there lies within each of us a hidden strength, a hidden power that, when utilized, can transform us into heroes.
Many times in our history, we have seen that happen. For instance, in the 17th century, Filipinos fought heroically against Protestant Dutch invaders who wanted to annex the Philippines to their territories in Asia and to abolish the Catholic religion in this country. Historical records show that against such a formidable enemy, and with much inferior weapons of war, the Filipino soldiers stormed heaven, unashamedly praying the rosary, asking the Virgin Mary to intercede for them to God.
After miraculously driving away the Dutch armada, they walked barefoot at dawn in solemn fulfillment of the promise they had made when they prayed for victory in battle. This began the centuries-old practice of holding the annual novena to our Lady of the Rosary, La Naval de Manila, which culminates with a procession of her image attended by thousands of Marian devotees.
In 1986, Filipinos jolted the world with their unique uprising against a dictator. The world saw in that unforgettable event a demonstration of people power. But what the world did not see was how we, known for our intense factionalism and incurable apathy, mustered the power to tame the savage instincts of a crowd to produce an unprecedented and unduplicated Edsa revolution. Pictures of people waving their rosaries and holding aloft the image of Our Lady of La Naval said it all. Our heroic resolve for change derives from our confidence in a wise Providence who walks ahead of us.
Let us hope this Sunday’s festivities of La Naval de Manila will help strengthen the faith of our youth and ignite in them the spark of heroism, as it did in Jose Rizal, the Filipino soldiers who fought in the Battles of La Naval, and the millions of people who congregated at Edsa. May this flame burn and turn into a nationwide conflagration.
Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, OP is a Dominican priest. He is a former rector of the University of Santo Tomas.