Today, we enter into another Lunar New Year.
We have managed to survive the trials and challenges of the previous year. Will we be able to face up to the challenges of the New Year? Indeed, whilst we are happy to leave the Old Year behind, the year of the Rooster, we are anxious about the year of the Dog.
So we seek to control the future. That is why Chinese people are overly superstitious in daily life. We believe that everything we do, from the food we eat to the colours we wear, will determine the future of our happiness and success in life. So we wear red for good luck and happiness. We eat sticky rice cake, Nian Gao, so that we can advance in life. We take black moss seaweed for prosperity since it is called 髮菜; fàcài or ‘fat choy’ in Cantonese. So, we have the greeting, “Gong Xi Fa Cai’. Fish is a must at the table on Chinese New Year because the word 魚 (yú) has the same pronunciation as the word 餘, which is “remain or surplus.” We exchange oranges because they are symbols of gold and wealth, since it has the pronunciation, 柑橘; gānjú. Even numbers are important, especially the number eight, which symbolizes fortune. Chinese also believe that our future is determined by which Chinese zodiac sign we are born in. The year of the animal will determine our character and relationship with others.
Of course, for us, we Christianize the symbols as expression of our hope and our prayers to God who provides us and our daily needs. We do not presume to be able to control our lives. The truth is that life is unpredictable. We cannot control everything in life, whether by manipulating our stars or even using our human will. In the play by William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar suggests, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (1.2.138-140)
Man proposes, God disposes. Everything might seem to be going on well in life for us but unexpected tragedy can happen, a terminal illness or a tragic accident. No matter how powerful we are on this earth, we are still human beings, finite. We can have all the riches and wealth and afford the best doctors and security in the world, but accidents and illness happen and no one can prevent such unforeseen circumstances. Indeed, only God is in full control. This is what the responsorial psalm says, “You sweep men away like a dream, like grass, which springs up in the morning. In the morning, it springs up and flowers; by evening, it withers and fades. Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart. Lord, relent!” Many of us come to this wisdom of heart only when we meet with tragedy or challenges that make us totally helpless in spite of our knowledge and power.
Surrendering to God’s will is the advice of St James for those of us who seek security on this earth, in wealth, status and power in life. “You never know what will happen tomorrow; you are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. The most you should ever say is: ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive to do this or that.’” If we want to live a life of joy and peace, we must seek to do His will. God knows best. We must trust in His divine providence. (cf Isa 55:8f) In His will is our peace. When we are focused on living in accordance to His will for us, we can give our heart and soul into what we are doing. God will somehow bless us in what we do and help us to make progress in our works. He will not take away our struggles but He will give us the grace to overcome them.
For this reason, we are invited to enter into the New Lunar Year with peace of mind and freedom from anxiety. If we allow our anxieties about tomorrow to control us, we will be crippled in our happiness in life. The truth is that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. We can plan many things but not everything will work out according to our plans. Jesus said to His disciples, “Do not worry; do not say, ‘What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?’ It is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things.” Indeed, there are many people who are always thinking and planning for tomorrow that they forget to live today. Instead of enjoying what they are doing each day, being with their loved ones and doing things that energize them, they are planning for happiness tomorrow. Jesus advises us, “So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So learn to enjoy each moment and each day with all its challenges and joys.
The solution to all our worries is simply to seek God and His kingdom. “Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts in his kingdom first, and on his righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well.” So what does it mean to set our hearts on His kingdom first as our purpose in life? What is the kingdom of God? St Paul says, “the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17) Happiness in life is more than merely having lots of money or power or influence. Such things in themselves cannot make us happy but they are means by which we can use them for the service of God and humanity. Happiness in life depends on whether we are living for meaning and purpose. Indeed, we can be very happy if we have a purpose in life and find meaning in what we are doing. All the other things are used to help us realize our meaning and vision. They are not ends in themselves.
True meaning in life is found in love and relationship. Indeed, science has discovered that those of us who live longest and enjoy healthy lives are those with meaningful relationships. It is not enough to keep fit, go to the gym or keep a healthy diet. What is of utmost importance is building good relationships with others. Indeed, when we celebrate the year of the dog, we know that dogs are often man’s best companion. They can feel with us and feel for us. A dog gives us the consolation of his love and presence, sometimes even more than our friends who only know how to criticize us and condemn us. That is why during the Lunar New Year, we visit each other to renew ties and friendships, especially those whom we have not met for quite some time. New Year is not a time to run away and isolate ourselves from the larger community. It is a time to reach out and to build ties with others. In this way, life becomes worth living because we have good relationships with people.
This love is also expressed in selfless service and contribution to the good of others and society. In the process of serving others, we build up ourselves and attain self-realization. If we live for ourselves, we will eventually find ourselves useless and living an aimless life. We must maximize ourselves and grow through our contribution to society, otherwise we will rot. The human body needs to be active to function and so is the mind. Meaningful work and service to others give us joy and we keep ourselves alive not just physically but emotionally. Service to humanity is the way to keep ourselves happy.
Secondly, Jesus tells us to seekrighteousness. This means that we are to live in right relationship with God, our fellowmen and with ourselves. When we live responsible lives, doing what is right, living an honest and upright life, whether in our relationship with God, with others or with respect to ourselves, we find happiness. In other words, we are called to live a life of integrity and justice. Peace is found when we have lived an upright life. When we have been responsible and do all we can for our fellowmen, our conscience is clear. Peace comes from justice that we render to others. In the gospel, Jesus taught us the golden rule. (cf Mt 7:12) In another text, St Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? (cf 1 Cor 6:9f) The Kingdom of God therefore is to live under the rule of God’s love. Seeking righteousness, peace and joy is what makes us happy in life.
At the same time, to seek His righteousness is more than simply striving to live a moral life. Ultimately, justice comes from God because no one can justify himself because we are all sinners. This is what St Paul wrote, “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (cf Rom 3:20-22) St John consoles us by saying, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. ” (1 Jn 3:18-20)
As for the future, we know that God’s grace will see us through. When we desire to live the life of God, seeking to live a just life, a life of integrity and charity in accordance to His will, we can live each day in peace and with calmness, doing all that we can, according to our limitations and strength. So long as we live fully each day, discharging our responsibilities well, we can live in peace knowing that we have not lived our lives in vain. So let us seek God’s blessings and divine protection as what Moses did for His people.