Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2019 on the occasion of Lunar New Year at St Monica’s Parish, North Parramatta
10 February 2019
Dear friends in Christ,
Once again, we gather to celebrate the beginning of Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. We farewell the Year of the Dog and welcome the Year of the Pig.
A few years ago, there was a film called Babe, which was a huge success. Babe was a little pig that wanted to do the work of a sheepdog in Outback Australia. It was cute, smart and hardworking. For a time, the film made it hard to be a pig farmer. But the Babe phenomenon was only temporary.
In Western culture, pigs are often portrayed as lazy and fit for nothing but human consumption. In Oriental culture, we see pigs as gentle creatures who rarely lose their temper. Even when they do, it is never a dramatic commotion. They always try to compromise and settle things quickly, because their goal in life is for everyone to live in harmony. Perhaps, we can make our goal this year of the pig to be living in harmony with everyone.
The Lunar Festival is a summation of ancient wisdom. It is a celebration of what it means to be a human being, a human being in relationship with others, and for us Christians also a human being in relationship with God who brings all things together in unity. We affirm these sacred relationships to be fundamental to our existence.
Whether we are rich or poor, high or low, there is no true happiness for us without our commitment to attending to and nurturing them. The good fortune wishes and gifts are shallow if our lives and relationships are not aligned with God’s purpose for us and the common good of others.
The Word of God today reinforces the ancient wisdom embedded in our culture. It also calls us to orientate our lives to the higher values and principles that will lead us to true blessedness, not simply good fortune in this world but a fulfilment of our God-given purpose of existence.
In the first reading, the book of Genesis gives us an account of God’s creation. In simple and symbolic language, it tells us that we are created not to be alone but to be in relationship with each other. Human beings, male and female, are meant to support and complement each other. This mutual dependence is also extended to all creation because all of life is interconnected.
Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si” highlights the importance of our relationship with each other and with the natural world. We must see everything as interconnected and indeed as a universal family. Only in this way and not in short-term economic gain or in a purely profit-driven business model, can we hope to restore the fundamental balance, harmony and sustainability in our world.
The Gospel teaching, on the other hand, takes us to another level. In what is known as the Beatitudes, Jesus challenges us with the highest kind of moral ideals. He calls us to embody values that challenge the conventional definition of happiness. In fact, they seem to be contradiction in term.
The poor will be rich; the gentle will be strong; the persecuted will be rewarded; and those who weep will rejoice. Seriously, how can one survive in this dog-eat-dog world by being meek, humble and merciful? How can it be a blessing to be poor, to be sorrowful and especially to be persecuted? They sound more like curses alright. After all, who would wish these things on anybody at any time of the year, let alone at the Lunar Festival?
However, when we examine the words of our Lord carefully, the initial repulsion or puzzlement will give way to a deeper understanding and appreciation. We realise that happiness does not reside in possessions, successes or achievements. Real happiness resides in a heart open to loving, to giving, to caring, to enhancing the lives of others even to the point of dying for the ones we love.
Jesus invites us to find this kind of happiness through a life of witness, service and solidarity. Christian happiness belongs to those who dare to give, to serve, to love even to the extent of having to pay the cost of that love in the way that Jesus himself did on the cross. That is fundamentally the meaning of the Beatitudes.
The value system of Jesus upsets and turns upside down the value system of the world. This is evident not just through the teachings and Parables of Jesus but even more so by his own life and ministry.
In him, we meet the God of our ancestors who revealed himself in the gentle breeze or the burning bush; the God who empowered the faithful remnants to rebuild the new Israel after the exile. In him, we encounter the God who affirmed the dignity of the down trodden and raised up the lowly. The Beatitudes provide an alternative vision of life. It is counter-cultural insofar as it goes against to the popular culture.
We are filled with gratitude to God for bringing us to this New Year. We may not always be as happy as pigs in mud. But may God enable us to live the Beatitudes of Jesus and attain blessedness through our daily living of and witnessing to the Gospel values.
“Kung hei fat choi” to you all!