Conception and Contraception: Virgin Mary and Margaret Sanger

The Miraculous Medal containing the Image of the Immaculate Conception

The Miraculous Medal containing the Image of the Immaculate Conception

I.  Immaculate Conception

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  As defined by Pope Pius IX last December 8, 1854 in his encyclical,Ineffabilis Deus:

 “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”

Four years after, Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous on March 25, 1858 and proclaimed her title:

“I am the Immaculate Conception” (“que soy era immaculada concepciou”)

But two decades before this, on November 27, 1830, the Virgin Mary already appeared to Catherine Soubirous instructing her to promote the devotion to the Miraculous Medal:

According to an account written by Catherine’s own hand, Mary was clothed in a robe of auroral light and her robe had a high neck and plain sleeves. According to Catherine’s notes, the medal should also have half a globe upon which Mary’s feet rest, hands raised up to her waist, fingers filled with diamond rings of different sizes giving off rays of light, and a frame slightly oval with golden letters saying, “O Mary! conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!” Her fingers each had three rings and the largest stones emitted the most brilliant rays. She added that some of the diamonds did not give off rays.

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, was conceived without sin.

II. Margaret Sanger and Contraception

It is interesting how the modern world has turned this statement upside down by telling each woman around the world: “Mary, to conceive is to sin.”  In 1914, sixty years after the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception in Ineffabilis Deus, Margaret Sanger wrote an 8-page monthly newsletter on contraception with the slogan, “No Gods, No Masters.”  In 1917, she published the monthly periodical, The Birth Control Review.  In 1921, she founded the American Birth Control League, with the following guiding principles:

“We hold that children should be (1) Conceived in love; (2) Born of the mother’s conscious desire; (3) And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health. Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.”

With the support of the Rockefeller family, Sanger created the Clinical Research Bureau, a birth control clinic, which later gave rise to the International Planned Parenthood Federation in 1952–a name which Sanger deplored because it is too euphemistic.  Planned Parenthood is the number one abortion provider in the US and is one of the major supporters of the Reproductive Health Law in the Philippines.

The guiding principles of the American Birth Control League has discriminated against babies that were not born in love or the mother’s conscious decision or were simply sickly

As part of her efforts to promote birth control, Sanger found common cause with proponents of eugenics, believing that they both sought to “assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.”[73] Sanger was a proponent of negative eugenics, which aims to improve human hereditary traits through social intervention by reducing reproduction by those considered unfit. Sanger’s eugenic policies included an exclusionary immigration policy, free access to birth control methods and full family planning autonomy for the able-minded, and compulsory segregation or sterilization for the profoundly retarded.[74][75] In her book The Pivot of Civilization, she advocated coercion to prevent the “undeniably feeble-minded” from procreating.[76] Although Sanger supported negative eugenics, she asserted that eugenics alone was not sufficient, and that birth control was essential to achieve her goals

Notice the Darwinian undercurrents in Sanger’s pronouncements: “Survival of the fittest, removal of the unfit.”  But it will not be nature who will define who will be the fittest and the unfit; rather, it will be Margaret Sanger or the woman or Planned Parenthood or the State.  This is what Pope Paul VI prophesied in 1968 in his Encyclical, Humanae Vitae:

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

And true enough, Pres. Aquino has fulfilled this prophecy when he signed in December 21, 2012 the  Republic Act No. 10354, An Act Providing for a National Policy on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health.

Philippine Coat of Arms: a Catholic Interpretation

Icons of the Philippine Coat of Arms

Icons of the Philippine Coat of Arms

Wikipedia has an excellent entry on the Philippine coat of arms that describes its evolution from that of a colony of Spain, to that of the US, and finally to its independence as a sovereign nation. The historical interpretations of the the heraldric devices such as the sun, stars, eagle, and lion are well-known. What I shall propose here is a possible reinterpretation of the devices in the light of the Scriptures and the Catholic Faith.

The top icon is Crown of Spain who gave the gift of Christianity to the Philippines; it may also be interpreted as the billowing sails of Magellan’s Spanish galleon whose front hull is shaped like the bottom of the shield. The yellow and white are the colors of Vatican City, the seat of the Catholic Church. The three stars and the sun represent the doctrine of the Trinity–three Divine Persons in one God; they also represent the the wounds of Christ on his hands, head, and heart. The sun represents the radiating Sacred Heart of Jesus pierced by thorns or the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced by swords. The blue and red represents the water and blood that flowed from the pierced Heart of Christ, as seen in the Icon of Divine Mercy.  This is reenacted during mass when the water (blue) is mixed with (wine), which becomes the Blood of Christ after consecration.  The sun on a white ellipse may also represent the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ hidden under the appearance of bread in the Sacred Host.

The Eagle icon is the Eagle of the United States of America. The Eagle also traditionally represents St. John the Evangelist because of his lofty description of the pre-existent divinity of Christ as the Logos or the Word of God (Jn 1:1). In the Book of Revelation, the wings of a great eagle was given to the woman pursued by the Red Dragon so that she can escape to the desert (Rev 12:14). The eagle is at the foot of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the man with the the eagle’s wings (angel) representing Juan Diego whose native name was Cuauhtlatoatzin or “The Talking Eagle.” Our Lady of Guadalupe is the second patroness of the Philippine Islands as defined by Pope Pius XI; the primary patroness of the Philippines is still Our Lady under the title of The Immaculate Conception whose colors are blue and white.

Lastly, the Lion icon is the Lion of Spain. The lion represents the Judah, the Lion’s whelp, from whose loins the Messiah, the Son of David, Jesus Christ, shall come:

“You, Judah, shall your brothers praise –your hand on the neck of your enemies; the sons of your father shall bow down to you.9Judah, like a lion’s whelp, you have grown up on prey, my son. He crouches like a lion recumbent, the king of beasts–who would dare rouse him10 The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, While tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.11 (Gen 49:8-11)

The present-day Jews are named after the Tribe of Judah, who survived the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians but was later sent to Babylonian exile.  The Lion of Judah is the municipal emblem of Jerusalem.  The lion also traditionally represents St. Mark the Evangelist because he begins his Gospel with St. John shouting in the desert where the wild beasts like lions live. St. Mark also described Jesus as living in the desert for 40 days to be tempted by the Satan, living with wild beasts, and ministered by angels (Mk 1: 1-13).  St. Peter describes the devil as the roaring lion:

Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.9 Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (1 Pet 5:8-9)

Thus, if the sun represents the human person, he would always have his guardian angel (eagle) and a demon (lion) by his side to influence his will whether to obey God or to go against His Holy will.

Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH) using Mary and the Holy Rosary in vain

Catholics for RH using Mary and the Holy Rosary in vain

Catholics for RH using Mary and the Holy Rosary in vain

Something diabolical is afoot: Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH) is using Mary and the Holy Rosary to promote something which is contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church. I think they found a  mnemonic device: RH is Roproductive Bill, so HR is Holy Rosary. HR for RH. Sounds good, right? But alas, as the Holy Rosary and the Reproductive Health Bill are opposites that can’t be mixed, in the same way as one cannot mix water and oil.

Reproductive Health Bill is for contraception, but Mary is the Immaculate Conception. Contraceptives prevent conception; conception is the failure of contraception. Had Mary practiced contraception, we would not have Christ. The contraceptive mentality says:

“Mary, you are still young. A good life still awaits you. That child will prevent you from attaining that good life. You have a boyfriend, Joseph, an honest and just man.  You are already betrothed to him.  What will he say to you when he finds out that the child is not his?  He will despise you and leave you.  What will your parents and relatives say when they found you with child and Joseph divorced you, you will be despised by all.  Worst, they will hand you over to be stoned to death, according to the law of Moses.

And even if you and your child will escape death by stoning, you will have a hard life raising that child.  A Son of God?  That’s a ridiculous title?  No one will believe that.  Surely, you don’t believe that.  A prophet maybe, but not Son of God.  There is no precedence in history that God became man.  You are just deluding yourself that you are talking to an angel.  You fast too much that you began to see things that are not there.  Slap yourself in the face.  Maybe that would awake you to your senses.

Catholics for RH Bill poster

Catholics for RH Bill poster

But Mary said “No” to contraceptive mentality and “yes” to God.  And in doing so, she undid the disobedience of Eve, who took the fruit of disobedience in her womb, believing that she would be like God who can define what is good and what is evil.  Mary, said, “yes,” and the whole plan of salvation unfolded starting from her Immaculate womb:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.

It is Mary’s openness to life that should serve as model for all women.  A married woman becomes open to life if she accepts whatever child God gives her as a gift to be treasured and cared for.  Because the child is so great a gift, a woman must prepare for such great responsibility, by not having intercourse outside of marriage.  Chastity is the path to marriage and modesty is the guardian of chastity.  As the Song of Songs says: “I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and hinds of the field, do not arouse, do not stir up love, before its own time.”

For the members of the Catholics for Reproductive Health (C4RH), if you still consider yourself Catholic, listen to what Pope Paul VI wrote in his encyclical Humanae Vitae:

Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.

Homily of Fr. Arnel Aquino, SJ for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2011


by Fr. Arnel Aquino, SJ
Feast of Immaculate Conception 2011
Church of the Gesu

I’ve thought about this for quite some time and with some difficulty. I figured, Mary being conceived without original sin, and remaining free of sin throughout her life—all this would be just too conceptual for me unless I tried to make sense of it from ordinary human experience. If I wish to continue firmly holding in faith this dogma of the Church and giving it my unflinching assent, I figured I had better get busy. I’d better get busy trying to make sense of Mary’s extraordinary estate from what I can ordinarily grasp in this day and age, where you and I are right now, and with a sinner’s eyes like mine. I mean, just what kind of conscience could I suppose Mary to have had, so that she freely chose to not sin all of her life? What kind of consciousness, what moral landscape, what spirituality could I suppose Mary to have had, so that her sinlessness in conception and through life would, (a) continue to make sense to me and my faith, and (b) teach me to live as a good person here and now?

My brother Jesuits and the Cenacle sisters and I are good friends with this married couple. Itago na lamang natin sila sa pangalang Gorio at Betchay, a wonderful married couple, highly successful, sweet kids, a beautiful home. They do say that they’ve had their moments, and we believe them. They’re very sincere couple, and they’re able to laugh at themselves and their own foibles even with us around. And Gorio has this funny way of toasting Betchay, sort of giving her a tribute in front of us. He would raise his glass and say, “For my wife—she is a saint to be married to a man like me.” But see, Gorio is a good man, a dutiful and faithful husband and father despite the many temptations in his line of work. I asked him one time, “So, Gorio, how do you keep from falling?” And with great candor and naturalness, he said very quietly, “Alam mo, Arnel, kapag dumarating ‘yang mga sandaling ‘yan, iniisip ang asawa ko. She immediately comes to mind. I think of her face, the face of a woman who’s been very patient with me, who’s done a fantastic job with our kids, who continues to hope in me, in us as a married couple and as a family. Si Betchay, Father, nasa isip ko parati.”

I have another old friend in Cebu, his name’s Roy. I’m very close to him and his wife, Joy. They’ve been married 23 years. They have eight kids—all still in school. Manoy Roy used to run an upscale talyer. It was doing very well for some years. It put all of his kids through school, funded travels with his wife, awarded them a very comfortable life. Until he and his Joy joined the Alay sa Dios community at the Jesuit parish in Cebu. Their business went downhill from there. Why? Because Manoy Roy finally decided to be honest in business. “Gikapoy na ko’s panikas, Father. I just got sick and tired of these under-the-table deals that garages habitually make with insurance companies, at the expense of customers.” Since then, Manoy Roy and Joy have depended a lot on scholarships and grants to put their children through school. Gone are the niceties they used to enjoy. But, you know what, it is amazing how deep their joy is—their commitment to the parish is steadfast, their resilience puts me to shame, and their cheerfulness just bowls me over. I asked Manoy Roy one time if he was ever tempted to go back. “Natental ko, Padre oy; I’ve been tempted a lot, Father” he says. “If I really wanted to, dali ra kayo; it would be so easy. But I always think of my family, my sick mom, and my community, Father. And I realize, nah, it’s not really worth it.”

Something closer to home now; my mom and dad always had a difficult marriage when I was younger. In fact, in all my high school years in the Ateneo de Davao, I often played the role of reconciler at home. But I did it for selfish reasons. I was always afraid my parents would split up and I’d be known in school as someone from a broken family. Back in those days, that was a stigma. So I took it upon myself to always end wars between them. I’d talk to them separately, and then together, and try to knock sense into them. When I talked to my dad during those times, he would always say: “Alam mo, anak, kung hindi dahil sa inyo ng Kuya mo at ni Jonathan (my younger brother), matagal na kaming hiwalay ng mommy mo.” My dad, all these years, mightily fought the temptation of abandoning us, because our faces were always before him.

Now maybe, just maybe, one thing that kept Mary freely choosing the good was always seeing faces of real people whom she really loved especially through difficult times. Maybe, her being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit was something that happened all her life long, not just during the annunciation. Maybe she was always overshadowed by these faces her beloved, most of all, the face of her son. This must have been the kind of conscience that Immaculate Mary had, the kind that has kept Gorio faithful to Betchay, the kind that has strengthened Manoy Roy’s resolve to keep being honest, the kind that’s kept dad and mom together for 47 years—that appearance, that arrival of faces of the beloved in her consciousness. Mary, of course, might have been privileged to have loved so much more deeply than we ever can, so that her beloved’s faces lasted her through her own deaths and resurrections. By this kind of love might her days have been ruled. Right now, I could not think of any other reason how one could remain ever so sinless, unless she actually loved at every single moment of life, seeing the faces of her beloved—faces more than ideals; faces, more than regulations; faces, more than paradigms; faces of real people she really loved.

Could it be that what somehow divides us as a people, as a Church, as a community is caused by the blurring from our consciousness of faces of real people we love? Do we seem to see abstracted ideals, norms, paradigms much more vividly than we can actually tie faces to them, faces of real people we profess we love? Or could it be that when we are at each other’s throats, we’ve long begun fighting for some thing rather than some one? Could it be that one of the most profound reasons why we hit an impasse is that we no longer have faces before us in our passionate desire to fight for our ideals? Would it be safe to say that while Mary lived each day from ideal to ideal, from norm to norm, from fight to fight–to all of these were nevertheless fastened the faces of her beloved—so that whatever she chose to obey, to do, or to fight against, she did out of real love for people whose faces were always before her?

As a Church, we need to take stock not only of what we love but also and more so whom we love. When we say we love God, that love must have faces automatically if not desperately attached to it, and not just some free-floating ideal of what loving God is, or what a Church is, or what a family is, or what Jesuit education is, or some kingdom of God, some rarified realm, glorious and triumphant—but faceless.

I don’t think “immaculate” means “rid of what is totally human in order to engage the totally divine.” Rather, I think immaculate means being overshadowed by the Spirit of great love for real people, through whose faces God emerges and disturbs and calls. When we, your pastors, desire to keep the Church “immaculate”, pray for us so that faces of real people light the way towards our ideals, instead of our ideals blinding us from the faces of people we’re supposed to love and serve. And we pray for you, too, that people you love may continue to be the deepest reason to choose wisely, to obey, to do, and perchance, to fight.

And so we pray for Mary’s help: “Turn then, o most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, show unto us the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Show us his face that we may desire sin less because we love more.

Ad majorem + Dei gloriam!

LST Theological Hour: Muslims to give a film showing on Mary in Loyola House of Studies

May we request you to post this announcement on the Blue Board, OUD & AR’s the BLUE Post, the Ateneo Alumni Association Website and LST Website please? Thanks so much for your help! Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Sch Chester A Yacub, SJ
Theological Hour Committee

Loyola School of Theology

in cooperation with the Institute for Comparative and Advanced Studies present

A Theological Hour on

Saint Mary (Persian: ???? ????)

a film by Iranian director Shahriar Bahrani

with Hujatul Islam wal Muslimeen Shaykh Mohammad Rosli Hassan, Al-Hajj (discussant)

and Prof Dato Yusuf Morales (facilitator)

of the Institute for Comparative and Advanced Studies, Philippines

7 December 2011, Wednesday


Cardinal Sin Center, Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University

Admission is free.

In commemoration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this film depicts the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, based on classical Islamic readings. A discussion and an open forum follow the film viewing.

Fr. Marciano M. Guzman on the Retraction and Conversion of Jose Rizal

by Fr. Marciano M. Guzman

(The author, a direct descendant of Rizal’s younger sister, Soledad, has written extensively on related issues.)

From time to time, some individuals try to challenge the truth about Rizal’s final conversion as well as his retraction of religious errors before his execution.

These attempts to deny our national hero’s conversion and retraction are made without conclusive and documented evidence. They normally do not transcend the psychological arguments devised by the blatant disbelief and stubbornness of some members of masonic lodges.

Typical of such reaction was a statement made in 1908 by a Venerable Master of the Grand Regional Lodge of the Philippines. It was pronounced in a meeting called to counteract the effects of Wenceslao Retana’s personal conviction about Rizal’s retraction, expressed in the book Vida y escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal. “If Rizal did retract,” the high-ranking Filipino Mason said, “he might have done it through altruism and not for personal interest. But still I have not believed and remain disbelieving in his retraction, notwithstanding so many things said about it, and in spite of the assurances of Jesuits and Retana… the idol of the Philippines has never changed his ideas, in a word, he has never retracted.”

A similar type of argument could be found in Rafael Palma’s The Pride of the Malay Race. “Rizal was a man of character,” wrote Palma in his book, “and he had demonstrated it in many circumstances of his life. He was not likely to yield his ideas because his former preceptors and teachers talked to him. They did it in Dapitan and did not obtain any result. Why would he renounce his religious ideas for a few hours more of life?”

Those who wish to deny Rizal’s conversion in the last hours of his life go against solid historical evidence.

Facts of the Case

The most formidable proof is the document of Rizal’s retraction of errors and profession of faith, duly signed and drawn in his own handwriting from beginning to end.

J.M. Cavanna, CM, in his book Rizal and the Philippines of His Days, summarized the hard facts connected with this document. Several eyewitnesses were present when Rizal wrote this holograph. They included three Jesuit priests, four lieutenants of the army, three soldiers of the artillery corps, and a colonel of the Manila Garrison who acted as Judge Advocate in Rizal’s trial.

Moreover, on the day of the hero’s execution, his retraction holograph was presented to and examined by the Archbishop of Manila, the Vicar General, the Secretary of the Chancery, the Provincial Superior and two priests of the Society of Jesus, the Fiscal of the Audiencia, one newspaper editorial staff, a layman administrator of a pious confraternity, and most probably other people in the Ateneo and in the Archbishop’s residence where the document was brought.
On the day of Rizal’s death, the full text of the retraction document was published in four leading Manila papers of the widest circulation in the country. On the following days, another Manila newspaper and three Madrid papers with direct correspondents in Manila, together with at least six other Madrid dailies, four Spanish magazines and one Portuguese periodical in Hong Kong published the text of the document with many details about how it was written and signed by the national hero. One of these correspondents declared that “a sister of Dr. Jose Rizal gave him the news about the conversion and retraction of the glorious convict.”

Besides, as a proof of his unconditional acceptance of the Catholic faith, Rizal, on his own initiative, signed a Catholic prayer-book with a long, detailed, and explicit profession of faith. He did this after reciting publicly, on his knees before the altar, and in the presence of all the witnesses of his retraction, an act of faith followed by two other prayers of Christian hope and charity. Four eyewitnesses corroborated this fact, and 3 qualified witnesses, 4 newspapers of Manila and Madrid at that time, and 4 historians and writers confirmed their testimony.

It is on record that the national hero received the sacrament of Penance 4 times and received Holy Communion fervently during a Mass, before proceeding to Bagumbayan for the execution. At Bagumbayan, moments before his death, in the presence of a “compact multitude which filled Luneta’s esplanade,” Rizal, renewing his contrition for sins already confessed and for whatever he might have forgotten, again asked for forgiveness, kissing the crucifix presented to him by the priest, and for the last time received sacramental absolution.

The last absolution he received was recorded in an official document of the government. His previous four confessions in his prison cell were certified by 5 eyewitnesses, 10 qualified witnesses, 7 newspapers of Manila, Madrid and Hong Kong at that time, and 12 historians and writers including Aglipayan bishops, Masons and anti-clericals.

Moreover, Rizal’s conversion is highlighted by his Catholic marriage with Josephine Bracken, solemnized before the altar by a priest with sacred vestments, pronouncing the sacramental blessing according to the Roman Ritual. This solemn canonical marriage, which could not have taken place without Rizal’s previous conversion, was witnessed and attested to by many people.
Furthermore, the conversion of the national hero is supported by the many acts of Catholic piety—such as kneeling before the altar, praying the Rosary, putting on the blue scapular of the Immaculate Conception—which he spontaneously and publicly performed during his last hours.
Rizal’s death was certainly not that of a rationalist and free-thinker. “Sectarian interests,” J.M. Cavanna, CM, aptly commented, “have vainly wasted ink and paper in useless quibbles and cavils to deny the undeniable, or at least to cast doubts on the document of Rizal’s retraction which is the lasting monument of his unfading glory.”

What Caused His Conversion

Rizal’s Jesuit friends were not optimistic about the hero’s change of attitude regarding his religious ideas by noontime of December 29, 1896, the day before his execution. He was adamant about his religious beliefs and did not want to abjure Masonry.

Towards mid-afternoon, Fr. Vicente Balaguer, the Jesuit missionary who dealt with Rizal in Dapitan, had a serious discussion with the latter in his prison cell about religious matters. During their conversation, the priest frankly told him that unless he renounced his errors, he would surely be condemned in hell. Rizal finally gave his priest friend a faint glimmer of hope. He promised that he would sincerely pray to God for the gift of faith.

Close to 7 p.m., Rizal asked Fr. Jose Vilaclara, SJ, his former professor of Physics at the Ateneo, who had arrived less than an hour earlier, to hear his confession. He was told that he had to make a retraction of his religious errors first, and that a retraction formula was being sent to him from the Archbishop’s residence.

The hero eagerly awaited the arrival of the retraction document. It came at 10:00 p.m. Fr. Balaguer sat down with Rizal at the writing table and read to him the long formula prepared by the Archbishop. After hearing the first paragraphs, Rizal did not want to sign it.
He told Fr. Balaguer: “Father, do not proceed. That style is different from mine. I will not sign that, because it should be understood that I am writing it myself.”

Fr. Balaguer then produced the brief formula written by Fr. Pio Pi, SJ, Superior of the Jesuits in the Philippines, which the Archbishop had earlier deemed adequate. After listening to the first paragraph, Rizal signified his acceptance of it, since its style was simple, like his own writing style. While Fr. Balaguer read out the formula, Rizal proceeded to write it in his own handwriting, making at times some observation or adding some phrase. Thus we have a clear, undeniable proof of Rizal’s conversion.

What caused this radical change in the soul of the national hero? Was it primarily brought about by the way his Jesuit mentors and friends “directed the attack” to the sentiment, and not to reason, as Wenceslao Retana, the well-known Rizalist, charged? Did he, during those last hours, act under suggestion, influenced by “a series of phenomena” or “abnormal circumstances?” Was his conversion, in Retana’s description, “a romantic concession of the poet,” and not a “meditated concession of the philosopher?”

It is true that the Jesuits tried to appeal to Rizal’s feelings and sentiments in their effort to bring him back to the Catholic faith. Thus, in an early morning visit on December 29, Fr. Luis Viza brought him the little statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus carved by Rizal when he was still a student at the Ateneo. Rizal took that image, kissed it, and placed it on his table.

Moreover, as we have earlier seen, during their discussion, Fr. Balaguer warned him that if he persisted in his errors, he would be condemned in hell. He also told him that his Jesuit friends would give their lives if by doing so they could attain the salvation of his soul.

However, we will not reflect the entire truth if we fail to consider the long conversation Fr. Balaguer had with Rizal about religious matters. Arguments, objections and refutations, with their strict appeal to reason and logic, were brought up during their discussion, as disclosed by Fr. Balaguer himself in his account.

In spite of all these, we still cannot rightfully say that Rizal owed his conversion to the influence of those good priests who were his former professors and friends, the sight of the image of the Sacred Heart that brought so many memories of the happy years of his boyhood, and the lively religious discussion he had with Fr. Balaguer. Neither can we truthfully say that his conversion was brought about by the special circumstances he was in, heightened by his imminent death.

God’s Grace

No external circumstance, no matter how special or extraordinary it may be, can cause a person’s conversion. Commenting on Retana’s allegation, J.M. Cavanna, CM, clearly explained this basic point.

“What happens after some event,” he said, “is not always due to that event. History proves that no amount of exterior circumstances can determine necessarily a conversion; and on the contrary, conversions may take place in the absence of the most powerful exterior stimuli and incentives.”

Of course, God can and does make use of human instruments and external circumstances to produce a conversion. Nevertheless, we have to affirm that a conversion is the exclusive work of God’s interior graces.

In Rizal’s case, we should not underestimate the supernatural efficacy of the prayers and penances offered by unidentified and unacknowledged members of religious communities to whom the Archbishop of Manila appealed in a circular, in his ardent zeal for Rizal’s conversion. With a few notable exceptions, our history books prefer to keep silent about such events.