By FR. ROLANDO DELA ROSA
Heroism appears too big for us, or we, too small for it. We cut heroism to size by equating it with our daily triumph over traffic, pollution, floods, bankruptcy, high prices, and toothaches.
Still, our hearts secretly throb for what Ernest Becker calls a yearning for ultimate significance. We want to imagine our importance in cosmic dimensions. We yearn to defy the finitude of our lives by performing acts that make us worthy of eternal remembrance.
We often think that to do this, we must be persons with extraordinary courage, flawless character, and saintly bearing. But in truth, heroes are people like us, faced with opportune moments for greatness. The difference between them and us is, they seize those moments and allow the indomitable force of their inner self to rise above conformity and mediocrity.
We now live in one such moment for greatness in our country’s history. But what we see, so far, are heroics, not heroism. We see the heroics of politicians and government leaders who cling to power like leeches, the heroics of lawyers whose obsession with legalism often delays justice, the heroics of lawless elements in our society whose nefarious exploits are emulated by the young, the heroics of some celebrities who use the social media to boost their popularity and rake it up at the box-office, the heroics of punk rockers who torment our eardrums to wreck our definition of music, the heroics of fanatics and drug addicts,and the heroics of media practitioners who advertise all of the above as prime examples for heroism.
Charles Lamb once wrote that there is nothing more joyful than secretly performing an extraordinary deed and being found out by accident. Perhaps it is about time that we tried this brand of heroism.
Today, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary of La Naval (or popularly known as La Naval de Manila), we remember a similar brand of heroism that is seldom mentioned in history books but has endured to this day in our memory.
In 1646, a Dutch armada threatened to annex the country to the Dutch East Indies and render extinct the Catholic faith. Using creaking galleons remodeled into warships, and armed with inferior weapons and substandard ammunition, Filipino and Spanish soldiers went to sea to repel the invaders.
But before the fighting began, they prayed the Rosary and pleaded to God for assistance, through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. They solemnly made a vow that, should they win the battle, they would walk barefoot to the Santo Domingo Church to thank God and pay homage to the image of Our Lady of the Rosary. The annual procession of La Naval de Manila originated from this vow.
Historians narrate that as the war raged on, the Dutch fleet retreated, with “heavy casualty,” while the outnumbered Filipino and Spanish forces suffered only minimal damage. The Dutch navy never again threatened to invade the country.
On April 9, 1662, a commission created by the Archdiocese of Manila to inquire into the event declared that the naval victories of 1646 were “granted by God through the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin and the people’s devotion to her Rosary.”
Looking back at that historic event that happened more than 400 years ago, Filipino heroes fought unafraid, prayed unashamedly, and later walked barefoot at dawn in solemn fulfillment of a promise made to God. Such heroism, spurred by devotion to Mary and her Rosary, was repeated throughout our history: in the revolts for our independence from Spain and America, in the People Power Revolution of 1986, and many other occasions where we showed the world why the Filipino is worth dying for.
Today, the insidious enemies that plunge our country into hopelessness and despair are no longer lurking outside. They are within us: our tendency toward rampant divisiveness, factionalism, and collective apathy. La Naval de Manila reminds us that, as a people, we have what it takes to overcome these, if only we get our act together, and draw strength from our most precious resource: our faith in God’s abiding providence and our devotion to the Blessed Mother.