Sunday, February 10, 2013

Chinese New Year
The Lesson of the Rooster in the Year of the Snake

Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 90; James 4:13-15; Matthew 6:31-34
Picture: cc @mikepick

Sisters and brothers, once upon a time, there was a rooster who took himself very seriously. And there was a reason why this was so. You see, the rooster was blessed with a very powerful voice. A voice that he made sure to exercise everyday by crowing loudly at the break of dawn. And, having noticed how his crowing tended to coincide with the sunrise, the rooster thought that the sun actually rose only because of him. This made him very proud of himself. Even arrogant. Imagine. If not for him, the whole world would remain in darkness. So, he liked nothing better than to show off his crowing in front of others. He also took great care of his voice by regularly drinking ginseng tea mixed with honey and lemon. He even gathered some of the hens in his coop, and trained them very hard everyday, so that they could sing backup. To enhance the sound of his own voice.

But, as time went on, the rooster began to feel the pressure. If the whole world relied on him to make the sun to rise, then he couldn’t let everyone down. He had to be sure never to forget to crow early every morning. Even if he happened to have stayed out late the previous night. This sense of the heavy responsibility placed on his shoulders often made him anxious. It gave him many sleepless nights. All of which made the rooster rather miserable. Day after day, he usually found himself feeling either arrogant or anxious, or both. But hardly ever happy. And all because he thought that he was the one who made the sun to rise. All because he took himself far too seriously.

Then, one day, the unthinkable happened. The rooster got a sore throat. He lost his voice. Perhaps it was the durians he had eaten the day before. We cannot say for sure. Whatever the reason, he was unable to crow. But, as we might expect, the sun rose all the same. This made the rooster fall into a deep depression. He gave up crowing, and even left his home in the chicken coop. What’s the point of crowing, he thought, if it doesn’t actually cause the sun to rise?

The rooster’s sadness continued for a long time. Until one fateful afternoon, when he happened to hear a nightingale singing in a tree. It was such a beautiful sound that the rooster was moved to speak to the singer. He wanted to find out if its song actually made the sun to rise. Or the moon to shine. Or the stars to sparkle. But the nightingale shook its head and said, No. My singing does nothing of the sort. Then why do you bother? The rooster asked. To which the nightingale laughed and replied, Why not? It makes me happy! I sing not to cause the sun to rise, but to celebrate its rising. Not to cause the moon to shine, but to celebrate its shining. Not to cause the stars to sparkle, but to celebrate their sparkling! Hearing this reply, the rooster’s life was changed. He returned to the chicken coop and went back to doing many of the things he used to do. He resumed crowing. He also began to, once again, train and sing with his choir of chickens. But something was different. This time round, the rooster found himself being far less arrogant and anxious. At times, he even felt truly happy. All because, having realised that he didn’t cause the sun to rise, he was able to stop taking himself quite as seriously as he did before.

Now, you might wonder why, sisters and brothers, on this first day of the year of the snake, I have chosen to tell you a story about a rooster. The answer is simple. The lesson learned by the rooster is rather similar to the lesson that our Mass readings are trying to teach us today. Notice, for example, how the second reading warns us against presumption and arrogance. We are to be careful about taking our brief and fragile lives for granted. About planning too far ahead. For we never know what will happen tomorrow; we are no more than a mist that is here for a little while and then disappears. And notice too, how Jesus tells us, in the gospel, not to be anxious. Not to worry about what we are to eat, nor about what we are to drink. Not to worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own.

Of course, if you are like me, you’ll find these warnings against arrogance and anxiety difficult to understand, let alone to put into practice. They are difficult to accept so long as we share the rooster’s mistaken assumption that we can actually cause the sun of our own survival and success to rise, solely by our own efforts. For, however capable and talented we are, however farsighted and well-prepared we may be, our efforts can only take us so far. Many things remain beyond our control. People can suddenly fall critically ill and die. Wars may break out. Natural disasters may occur. Stock markets can crash without warning. And these things will happen no matter how many sleepless nights we may choose to spend. Or however many white papers we may draw up and debate.

All this does not mean, of course, that we should not work hard. Or that we should not plan at all. Or that our efforts are unimportant. They are very important. As people say, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Precautions have to be made. Responsibilities have to be borne. Work has to be done. But it makes all the difference in the world when we allow ourselves to accept that all these efforts of ours cannot actually ensure our survival and success. That our lives are not actually totally in our own hands.

It is only when we allow ourselves to humbly accept this truth, that we learn the importance of doing what Moses is learning to do in the first reading today. We learn to seek God’s help in all circumstances. We learn to entrust our wellbeing to the care and compassion of God at all times. We learn to keep praying that the almighty One–who could so easily sweep us away like grass which springs up in the morning and by evening withers and fades–will continue to bless us and keep us. Will ever uncover his face to us and bring us His peace.

And when we are able to entrust our lives into the hands of God in this way. When we are able to accept the truth that, however hard we may work, or however far ahead we may plan, we cannot actually cause the sun to rise. Perhaps we will also learn to take ourselves far less seriously. And, in so doing, learn to live the gift of life the way it is meant to be lived. As a joyous celebration, and not just a heavy burden. We may even experience, if only from time to time, what it feels like to be truly happy.

Sisters and brothers, as we usher in another new year, how might we let go of our arrogance and our anxiety? How might we learn to take ourselves a little less seriously?

Sisters and brothers, on this first day of the year of the snake, how is God teaching us the lesson of the rooster today?


  1. As the Psalmist wrote in 37:4-5, "Find your delight in the LORD
    who will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the LORD;
    trust in him and he will act."

    Many years back, I used to worry alot and unnecessarily, to such an extent that I lost confidence in myself. No matter how persistent I prayed, it seemed that my prayers had not been heard. I thought God did not love me after all. It was until recently that I started to practice my faith more conscientiously, that I felt more at ease, more confident and at peace. I believe that if I placed my trust in the Lord, and not ask for what I WANT, but rather to listen to Him silently and do good, I will be able to find joy, happiness and peace ultimately. That is how the Psalmist had written - Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire.

    Wishing you a peaceful Lunar New Year, Father.

    Deo Gratias

  2. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  3. Indeed, we are so much surrounded by the secular values of SELF, PRIDE, and all things contrary to God's values and what do we choose? and if we choose Christ's values - are we willing to pay the price that comes with it?

    Hence, this story of the arrogance and anxiety of the PROUD rooster full of SELF GLORY is and should remain, a good lesson for all of us to reflect upon.

    For Christ is humbler yet, even to the extent of dying for us on the cross says St Paul in the 2nd Chapter of his letter to the Philippians. yet, are we willing to carry our cross and defy the logic of the worldly values?

    For what does it profit a man/woman if he/she gains the whole world and yet suffers the loss of his/her soul?

    Pax et Bonum


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