Do you care if Rizal is in heaven?

By Rene Q. Bas – MANY patriotic Filipino Catholics, who, while being nationalist, also take their faith seriously, love Jose Rizal and his example. They agree that he should be the foremost national hero. They must, I suppose, also wish, as I do, that some definitive finding based on rigorous research and logical analyses, makes it an article of fact, not merely of faith, accepted by historians, Rizalian scholars and the National Historical Institute, that our hero indeed died a fully restored Christian and Roman Catholic.

Did he die a saint because he was in a state of grace when martyred by the Spanish colonial government after a court martial found him guilty of crimes he did not commit?

The author of the book, Rizal Through a Glass Darkly, does not only say Rizal possibly died a saint. A scholar, Fr. Javier de Pedro, a secular Catholic priest incardinated in the Opus Dei prelature, who has been a spiritual director of many, many souls since he was ordained in 1964, states unequivocally: “I am convinced that he received long ago the welcome of the Father to the house of Heaven.”

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly is literally a spiritual biography of Rizal. I have known its author since 1967. He holds a doctorate in industrial engineering from Barcelona’s Escuela de Ingenieros Industriales, which enjoys a reputation for excellence not just in Spain but in the whole of Europe. He also has a doctorate in Canon Law from the University of Navarre, Pamplona, Spain.

Many Filipinos today have a cynical attitude toward the Catholic Church, Christianity and the piety of those who pray. They will readily pooh-pooh Fr. de Pedro’s book, laughing at the mere idea of “a spiritual biography.”

Among serious Christians, however, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, spiritual biographies are taken seriously. To the genre of spiritual biography belong important additions to Church scholarship and historical literature.

Rizal Through a Glass Darkly is a valuable addition to Philippine historical studies.

Javier de Pedro charts the state of Jose Rizal’s spiritual life, the progress and detours he made in his journey to heaven. We see in this book how the hero’s mind worked about God, religion, the virtues, the Church and the friars, at every stage of Rizal’s life.

The references Fr. de Pedro used are concrete works available for all to examine and verify to test the priest—historian’s correctness, fidelity to the truth, objectivity and—important to Catholics who abide by the teachings of the Church—adherence to the sound doctrine. He used Rizal’s own letters, poems, diaries, essays and the Noli and the Fili. He also used letters written to Rizal by friends, relatives (including his mother) and critics alike. Fr. de Pedro also referred to news items and comments written about Rizal, his trial and his execution and to the testimonies of Rizal’s teachers, confessors and defenders, archival documents in Spain as well as the most popular and well-regarded books that used primary sources about Rizal—by Jose Arcilla, Austin Coates, Horacio de la Costa, Ambeth Ocampo, Rafael Palma, Fidel Villaroel, among others.

In giving his readers a profile of Rizal’s spiritual state through the three decades of his life, Fr. de Pedro does something no other book has done for us Filipinos who have more or less studied his life from earlier available biographies and Rizal-centered histories. Fr. de Pedro’s knowledge of the pastoral care of souls makes us realize for the first time the torments our hero must have suffered and the joys his soul must have enjoyed during events that, in our previous readings and studies, were just historical happenings that triggered some other actions and events that changed our country’s fate.

It will spoil the book for you if I go into detail about the hero’s deepest moral problems. And, Procopio, please don’t be so shallow as to think these have to do with his relations with beautiful women.

One of the things I did not know until I read this book is that, among the things that made Rizal decide that the frailocracia was the one biggest evil in the Philippines, was his misunderstanding of a brief message from his elder brother and mentor Paciano. The message was about an evil deed a Fr. Villafranca was doing to Rizal’s father. Rizal assumed Paciano’s evildoer to be a friar, when in fact Villafranca was a secular priest. This old priest was blackmailing Rizal’s father—threatening to expose the “dark” family secret (which to us today is something to laugh about) that Antonino Lopez, the good husband of Rizal’s sister Narcisa, was in fact the son of Fr. Leoncio Lopez, the parish priest of Calamba whom Rizal knew to as a great man. Rizal modeled El Filibusterismo’s Fr. Florentino on Fr. Leoncio.

Our foremost national hero decided to make it his mission to demonize the friars and the frailocracy as the one mammoth evil that must be fought and dislodged by Filipinos to end injustice, oppression and tyranny.

The anti-friar and blame-the-friars-for-everything outlook was not at all in the mind of that young Rizal who carved an image of the Sacred Heart and wrote prize-winning works honoring the Church, Mother Mary and God. The young Rizal, when he left for Europe without his parents’ knowledge, considered Dominicans of Santo Tomas and Jesuits of the Ateneo among his closest and most respected friends. These had nurtured his intellect and given him religious formation.

His mother also taught him love for the Church, religion and respect for Our Lord and Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Teodora Alonzo imprisoned

The Mercados of Calamba (Jose Rizal’s real surname was Mercado) were not only mestizo grandees of Laguna, they were nationally respected. Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonzo, was the niece of a deputy to the Cortez. She was a rich and educated woman, whose culture was much higher than many a Spaniard’s. But she was imprisoned—on the basis of the ridiculous charged made by the adulterous wife of her cousin, whose marriage Doña Teodora had tried to save, that Teodora had tried to poison her. This injustice of the guardia civil against his mother was festering in Rizal’s heart until he was in Spain. It must have hurt this child between 10 and 11 to know that among those who testified against his mother were the very officials who had benefited from the goodness of Francisco Mercado and Teodora Alonzo Mercado, people who dined often in the Mercado house.

Fr. de Pedro writes: She “was eventually acquitted, but only after suffering a two-and-a-half-year imprisonment. ‘My mother was forced by the mayor to confess to whatever they wanted . . . Weakened, frightened and deceived, she submitted to the will of her enemies.’ The mayor later recanted and begged Doña Teodora’s forgiveness—but only because the case had been raised to the Audiencia de Manila, which served as kind of Supreme Court.

“The second wound was caused by legal prosecution based on pure suspicion of sedition, without sufficient proof. The conspiracy of which [the Noli’s] Ibarra was accused of being the leader is a faint echo of a childhood mystery that was never properly solved. Were Frs. Gomez, Zamora and Burgos the real instigators of the Cavite Mutiny?” writes Fr. Javier de Pedro.

Fr. Burgos was a kind and wise soul who nurtured Paciano Rizal’s mind and talent when he was a student at the University of Sto. Tomas. In fact, Paciano was a student-resident of the house of Fr. Burgos. The young Jose Rizal felt Paciano’s pain and must have imbibed his elder brother’s feelings of revulsion—and rebellion—at the execution of Fr. Burgos.

Influence of the liberals and Masons on Rizal

When Rizal left the Philippines for further studies in Spain, he did not tell his parents because they would not have let him go. They knew that Spain was the hotbed of anti-Church, Masonic activism. His mother especially would have worried that her son would lose his faith in the emerging liberal Europe.

Fr. de Pedro makes it clear that when Rizal arrived in Spain in 1872 that country was politically and ideologically unstable. The memories of La Gloriosa—the 1868 revolution against Queen Isabella—were still fresh. For two years, mutinies and anarchy reigned. In 1870, the Cortes [the parliament] proclaimed that Spain would again be a monarchy. Then the Italian Amadeus of Savoy became king but he fled from what he called an ungovernable people, which gave the opening for a band of radicals and republicans to create the First Spanish Republic which ruled from 1873 to 1874. Socialists, liberals, Catholic liberals and conservatives, monarchists, everybody were trying to be the dominant voice in academe, parliament and the streets.

Rizal changed into the liberal, Masonic-minded person who had written the anti-friar and anti-Church Noli which Fr. de Pedro writes “from a purely theological point of view, [is] the story of a crisis of faith, a faith inadequately rationalized as the denunciation of the abuses of a system.”

The Fili, Fr, de Pedro writes, “is above all the story of a crisis of conscience that moved its author to renounce his original aim of seeking revenge and brought him at least to the threshold of faith.”

Exiled in Dapitan, arrested and tried, Rizal was constantly in the company of Jesuit priests who, by God’s grace, succeeded in bringing him back fully to the Church.

He had signed the retraction, gone to confession thrice and married Josephine Bracken.

Minutes before his execution, Fr. de Pedro writes, Rizal asked Fr. Balaguer, “Would God have forgiven me completely now?” “Yes, my son,” Balaguer answered him. “Then, if I gain plenary indulgence, I could still go to Heaven this same night?” “Yes, my son; prepare yourself well and repeat: Iesu fili David miserere mei; Miserere mei Deus, secundum misericordiam tuam.” Before the firing squad killed him, “Rizal kissed the Sacred Heart image he had carved twenty years before.”






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