Today is an important and special day for of us who celebrate the Lunar New Year. In the practice of our Catholic Christian faith, we do not deny the reality and roots of our culture and race. Thus, today, as we come here as Chinese or Vietnamese or any other race that celebrates the beginning of a new year, the Lunar New Year, we coming here to ask for God’s special blessings for the coming year, 2013.
While our race identifies our cultural roots, our faith is deeper; our faith gives us the identity of our existence and our life’s journey in this world as sons and daughters of God the Father, with Christ as our Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as our divine guide, protector and inspiration in our lives.
In other words, while we gather here as a Catholic family, we cannot deny the inseparable reality that we too gather as Chinese to worship the Lord of our lives. In doing so, we are today calling upon God to “Baptise” our culture, so to speak. The more we are able to experience and live our Catholic faith authentically and deeply as Chinese, the more inculturated our faith would be. This simply put means that we are called to live our faith as Baptised Catholic Christians, but not lose the sense of our cultural roots.
When we began our Mass, in the opening prayer we prayed, “Almighty God, with You there is no beginning and no end, for You are the origin and the goal of all creation. May this New Year that we dedicate to You, bring us abundant blessings and growth in our faith in our daily living.”
In today’s Gospel of St Matthew, Jesus points out clearly the two ways in which we can live our lives. We can choose to live a life that is filled with the worries of this world of food, drink and clothing or to entrust our lives to God our Father who knows our needs, and will care for us at all times.
As Chinese, our culture teaches us to love our parents and family, but as Christians, Jesus teaches us to love parents and family as He has shown us. As Chinese, our culture tries to draw out the goodness of what a human person is capable of showing through our filial piety and being more humane in the way we live our lives. But, as Christians, Jesus teaches and shows us through His life that the goodness in our hearts has no bounds and no boundaries. The goodness of our hearts is even capable of laying down our lives, like Christ for the sake and salvation of others.
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, at the end of Mass today, when we bless our oranges and distribute them to you, we are primarily seeking for God’s abundant blessings in our lives. While in our Chinese culture, orange symbolises gold and thus the wishes of material prosperity and happiness that gold brings. But, as Christians the meaning is deeper; the oranges must remind us of the deeper truth of Christ and the Good News of Salvation.
If Jesus were to be preaching to you and I here today, what do you think He would say to us? I believe Jesus would remind us of our need to build our lives on God as our security and foundation and not on our material needs. Jesus would precisely preach what we heard proclaimed in today’s Gospel. Jesus would say to us, “Do not worry what we are to eat, what we are to drink or how we are to be clothed. It is the pagans, the non-believers who set their hearts on these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. So, set your hearts on the Kingdom first, and on God’s Righteousness, and all these other things will be given you as well. So, do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own.”
An anonymous writer once shared that if we were to reflect on the landscape paintings of Fan K’uan, an eleventh century Chinese artist we will find them to be very different from many of the traditional Western artists. “When we view traditional Western paintings, our eyes first look at the foreground, then move up to the horizon, and finally settle on a single focal point.
However, when we reflect on Fan K’uan’s landscape paintings, my eyes would follow a flow of water in the foreground up the mountain and into the beyond. Instead of arriving at a focal point, we find ourselves in limitless space.
The painting pulls us up into God’s mystery. Since the painting has no focal point, my eyes may drop to focus on some detail, such as the tiny, nearly insignificant people in the foreground. I ask with the psalmist, “What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him?” (Psalm 8:5).
I see the scraggly bushes clinging to the barren, steep mountainsides. Against tremendous odds, the little bushes are hanging for dear life. I think of the poor of the world who cling to the life given them by God.
(see above Fan Kuan's painting 'Travelers Among Mountains and Streams')
The traditional Chinese painting gives no indication of the time of day. It is a “now” experience. At any moment, our gaze may drift from some detail and again be gently swept up to the mountain heights and beyond into eternity, where for a brief period we can disappear into the mystery of God.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, only in the “now experience” of the mystery God in the Gospel of Christ can we find true security, peace and happiness in life; nothing and no one in this world can offer us what Jesus is offering us. We are called not to be carried away by the particular worries of life, but allow the deeper mysteries of God’s saving Love to empower us daily. We need to begin this Lunar New Year with the wisdom of deepening our desires to put God more centrally in our life and daily develop a spiritual life with Jesus whatever this may be: whether to pray more or participate in the Eucharist or our parish programme more actively or fully.
If we do not do this, but get carried away by the particular details of life’s worries for food, drink and clothing and the other material needs of life, then Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us that we will surely be plagued by worries of life. But if we heed the Gospel of Jesus, then He assures us that His Father who knows our needs will surely give us the very best that life can offer: the unshakeable security, the true peace and the lasting happiness of life that all of us long to have.
If we reflect on our lives, we will realise that “worries” do not and cannot change our past; worries too are a great waste of our energies. None of us can predict our future and most of the time worries create fears that rob us of the joys of life that Jesus wants us to have. While the trials and our uncertain future are real, we are called to live in the “here and now of life” where God is our security and foundation.
As a conclusion, let me add that as St Ignatius of Loyola reminds us of our need to “Find God in all things,” we can be sure that when we are consciously able to live in God’s presence, and “set our hearts on God’s Kingdom and thus entrust our future needs to God’s Providence, we will surely be able to discover that the mystery of God in the bigger Truth of life will surely give us the needed consolation to realise how blessed we are to have a God who will always provide for us and who will never allow the trials of life to rob us of the joys, peace and happiness that He, our God of love wants to give us. And this is ultimately the true blessings we wish for on today’s celebration of our Lunar New Year.
(Ref: James H. Kroeger, Eugene Thalmand, Jason K.Dy, Once upon a Time in Asia – Stories of Harmony and Peace: Claretian Pub.; 2006; p. 87.)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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