Rizal reminders for 2023
Every year on Dec. 30, newspaper editorials try to make the martyrdom of Jose Rizal relevant to readers who know of him but have not really read Rizal’s works. Early in the morning, the President of the Philippines, or his designated representative, offers a wreath at the Rizal monument on behalf of a nation grateful for his sacrifice. The monument is actually a tomb; Rizal is buried somewhere underneath it. I imagine him rolling in his grave on Dec. 30 because he specifically stated in his deathbed instructions that he didn’t want any commemorations on his anniversary.
A pity that Rizal is best remembered for two novels, “Noli Me Tangere” (1887) and “El Filibusterismo” (1891), that people read in translation from the original Spanish. Rizal wrote way more than these; his compiled writings fill 25 printed volumes. We have a national hero who wrote a lot for a nation that does not read him. From his jottings, one can pick up many bits of condensed wit and wisdom. Over the years of reading and rereading Rizal, I have gathered enough material for a self-help volume, tentatively titled “Rizal 365” or “Everyday Rizal.”
Rizal was modest, or maybe he was fishing for compliments, when he wrote:
“I do not expect to be believed because only I have said it. Many people do not respect reason and truth, but the priest’s habit, gray hair, or lack of teeth. But if old age is venerable because of hard experience, my past life, though a short one, dedicated to the welfare of my country, has also given me some experience.”
He advises parents:
“Teach your children to guard and love their honor, to love their fellowmen, their native land, and to perform their duties. Tell them repeatedly to prefer death with honor to life with dishonor.”
He emphasized committed education as a means to improve life and society:
“Ignorance is bondage, because like mind, like man. A man without a will of his own is a man without personality. The blind who follows other’s opinion is like a beast led by a halter.
“One who wants to help himself should help others, because, if he neglects others, he, too, will be neglected by them. One midrib is easy to break, but not a bundle of many midribs tied together.”
He sees more to religion than rote ritual, but a way to make people better:
“Raise your children close to the image of the true God—the God who cannot [be] bribed, the God who is not avaricious, the God who is the father of all, who is not partial, the God who does not fatten on the blood of the poor, who does not rejoice at the plaints of the afflicted, and does not obfuscate the intelligent mind.
“Awaken and prepare the mind of the child for every good and desirable idea—love for honor, sincere, and firm character, clear mind, clean conduct, noble action, love for one’s fellow men, respect for God—teach this to your children. And because life is full of sorrows and perils, fortify their characters against any difficulty, strengthen their hearts against any danger. The country should not expect honor and prosperity so long as the education of the child is defective…”
On this day that the nation honors him, he reminds us:
“No one should expect rewards or honors for what he does. He who does his duty in the expectation of rewards is usually disappointed, because almost no one believes himself sufficiently rewarded … in anomalous countries, injustice is the prize for those who fulfill their duties.”
And again, a reminder to those who strive to do good in a dysfunctional world:
“Laurels do not grow in my country. And he who has to fight against reptiles and worms has to come down to the mire and mud, as the reptiles live there. So if you find a good chance to withdraw, do so.”
Finally, as we leave 2022 and look toward a new year in 2023, he has this to say:
“I want to give an example to my people that I do not write for myself or for my personal glory, but for my country, and so I prefer the truth to my fame. May my countrymen also sacrifice their passions on the altar of the country! May they not seek their welfare in honors, employment, bribery, flattery, but in virtues that distinguish and adorn free peoples! … everything be for the people that has suffered so much under the Spanish yoke, many times through fear and other times through love, and always with the hope that they shall be redeemed someday.”
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