Jan 22, 2012

Chinese New Year in Christian Context (2)

It's Chinese (Lunar) New Year eve. Like any other Chinese families, my parents are busy with some last minute preparations and also getting some dishes ready for tonight's New Year Eve (thanksgiving) dinner. As for me, I try to help where I can when I'm summoned by them. But for now, I will just get this posted before they start calling for me again.

As a young Catholic, I have always wondered what does Chinese New Year have to do with Christianity. Is it really a culture for us Chinese, or is it some kind of cult practices, or occasions similar to Halloween that can be ignored by Christians?

Then I realised the answer is found in a pastoral letter I posted in 2006: Chinese New Year in Christian Context (1). Obviously, I did not understand what the letter was talking about until recently.

Tradition is important as it gives us our identity. Just as the Catholic Church has her own traditions passed down from the Apostles, so do the Chinese and all the races (and people) across the globe.

As a traditional practice for the non-Christian Chinese in particular the Buddhists on the eve of CNY, they would burn incense and give offerings to their gods as thanksgiving as well as presenting their requests and hopes for the new year. The same actually goes to us Chinese Catholics. On the first day of CNY, (most) Chinese Catholics would attend the Chinese New Year Thanksgiving Mass in the respective parishes (where the Chinese population is present). And we also have gifts offering to God during the Offertory.

Here are the explanations of the common gifts offered during CNY Mass:
1. The Bread and Wine
These will be turned into the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration. And at Holy Communion, we participate in the Body and Blood of Christ, the Risen Lord.

2. The Cake of the Year (年糕 "Nian Gao")
Made of pulut (glutinous) rice. Because of its glutinosity, is emblematic of eternal friendship. For us Christians, it means eternal friendship with God through our Baptism. Its stickiness is suggestive of a theory of standing by one another through thick and thin -- a universal brotherhood. Christians should stand by one another in Christ.

3. The New Year Oranges
Being fresh fruits, imply a new vigour and new lease of life. And for us Christians, it means that in the coming year we ask God to give us new vigour in our Christian life, and a new lease of life in Christ.

4. The Groundnut
The flower of life, and metaphorically it is called "Chang Sheng Guo" (長生果) - the nut of longevity. For us it means eternal life in Christ.

5. Money
Signifies the offering of ourselves. It is the giving of the fruits of our labour to God.

Source: Order of the Mass booklet for Chinese New Year, Holy Trinity Church, Kenyalang Park
A colleague shared with me the complaints of an ex-lapsed Catholic who has just recently returned to church and went for Gawai (Harvest Festival of the Sarawak Natives) Thanksgiving Mass in June last year. It went something like this: "What are these fuss all about? The gongs, the sape's, the music and the noise... This is the House of God, why are they celebrating a pagan festival in the church?"

In my opinion, this is a wrong mentality. The very reason why the Dayak (natives of Sarawak and Sabah) Catholics celebrate the Harvest Festival (- a tradition) in the church is that they acknowledge God as the One who provided for them throughout the year. Therefore, at every Harvest Festival, a thanksgiving Mass is offered with rice, maize, tuak (rice wine), etc. being some of the gifts for the Offertory.

So are they wrong by putting God first and making Him the Lord of the Harvests?

The same goes to the Chinese Catholics. Is it wrong for us to thank the Lord and ask Him for His continuous blessings for another new year? All the merry-making is secondary; it is the reunion of family members, rekindling of old friendships and making of new ones that count.

Indeed, a lot of celebrations like these are already 'christianised' by the Malaysian Christians. Perhaps, a proof of an increasing faith in God for Christians in Malaysia. Or perhaps, that's what we call "inculturation."

Wishing all Chinese brothers and sisters a joyous and blessed Chinese New Year!

Read also: Chinese New Year in Christian Context (1)

Jan 20, 2012

New year resolutions 2012

I was on Skype with a non-Christian friend yesterday. Here was how our conversation went...

“... everyone’s saving up money now for the coming Chinese (Lunar) New Year.”

“Yeah. But I hate Chinese New Year. It makes no difference whether I celebrate or not.”

“I like Chinese New Year! It’s the time I assess and review my previous resolutions and make new ones for the coming year.”

That gave me a wake-up call, a reminder that there are good reasons why we should make resolutions and to assess our achievements and failures at the end of the year; to give thanks to the Lord for everything we have gone through, be it success or failures, because our experiences help us grow in maturity and strengthen our relationship with God.

Looking back, I realised I have gone quite far last year, compared to the years before, made possible by the good Lord. I really cannot imagine my life without Him. Thank you, Lord, with my whole heart and soul!

This year, I have decided to list down my resolutions. Definitely not to show off but as a self reminder that, like 2011, Year 2012 will zoom pass without me realising it and thus I should be clear about what I want to achieve this year, and waste no time to work towards the target or dream.

I want this year to be lived fully for Him alone...

1. Pray more, read more, reflect more, listen more, write more, and talk when necessary. This is how I would love to spend time with the Lover of my soul. I have a lot of Christian books lying on the bookshelf begging me to read them. I still have lots of books on my reading list too. Most of these books are thoughts provoking books by the saints and other well known author, which I borrowed from the Carmelite sisters. The only way to keep my mind active and intoxicated with Christ is through reading. If I do not start today, then when is the best time?

2. A silent retreat. I need a retreat desperately, but not the type of retreat with praising and worshipping in loud music (i.e. youth camps), attending talks and seminars which involve charismatic renewal (and anything charismatic), and anything of that sort which are noisy. My daily life in the hustle and bustle of the city is noisy enough, and I do not want any more noise to crowd out that still, small voice of God I long to hear. Therefore I am looking for a retreat centre that offers silent retreats. This year, I hope I will receive an answer from God for my vocation.

3. Practise humility. This resolution was added to the list towards the end of last year, and I would like to carry it forward into 2012. It is right and just that a servant be humble. If Jesus, a King, is able to bend low and wash His disciples’ feet, how much more should I, a servant, prostrate before Him in humble submission and service? “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love...” (Prayer of St Francis).

4. To be physically and spiritually fit. I am somewhat a health freak because I do understand that only with a sound mind and body can I give myself in total service to God and His people. Since my body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20), it is even more so that I should keep myself fit physically, and strive for holiness (1 Pet 1:14-16).

5. Put faith into action. I was in a Catholic Chatroom when I saw how a Protestant (who claimed himself a pastor) cursing the Catholic Church using all the foul languages ever existed. Is this really how a Christian should behave? Are lip services more than enough? “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). I always tell friends that I detest those who do not practise what they preach, without realising that it is a strong statement which might force me to swallow my own words if I make the same mistake. And so I’m trying my best this year to judge less, speak more words of encouragement and compliment, and put love into action.

I do not know what 2012 holds for me. Undoubtedly, there will certainly be more workload. Perhaps more heartaches, more being taken for granted and being misunderstood; probably more disappointments, more obstacles to overcome, more storms to fight... but amidst all the difficulties that may come along the way, I pray that the Lord will continue to walk with me, for the joy of the Lord is my strength.

A blessed new year 2012, brothers and sisters in Christ!