The illustrative story shared by Fr Philip has a ghastly slant to it. So, spoiler alert, before I translate. The title of the story is the Tiger and the lips of a Christian. I know that this sounds peculiarly strange in English, but you would soon understand the reason for this not so innocuous title. The protagonist of our story is a Christian who strived to serve the Lord.
One day, as he was passing through the forest, he was eaten by a tiger. This is not the ending but only the start of the story. Feeling that his death was untimely and unjust, the man demanded an answer from God: "God, I had been faithfully serving you, how can you allow the tiger to eat me?" God said, "Why did the tiger eat you? Let’s ask the tiger." So, they went to ask the tiger. God questioned the animal, "O tiger, did I not command you to refrain from eating anything which belongs to me?" The tiger replied, "O God, I obeyed your command to the letter." With that, the tiger produced two fleshy pieces of meat which happened to be the man's lips, and he said, "God, I have observed carefully that the only part of this man which belongs to you are his lips and I have carefully set these aside and not consumed them. As for the rest of his body, nothing belongs to you, so I ate him." God turned to the man, "What else do you have to say?" The man bowed his head in shame.
And so, the story begs this question: which part of us belongs to God? Are there still areas in our lives which do not belong to Him? Is our faith merely confined to lip-service, to external acts of piety? Dear brothers and sisters, we can't be merely content in being nominal or Sunday Catholics. Being a Christian requires a life-time of service to the Lord, and it is certainly not confined to what we do in Church on a Sunday. In whatever situation we may find ourselves in, we should always strive to imitate Christ, witnessing God’s love to others, so that the testimony of our lives, and not just our words, would be a source of attraction to others to lead them to Christ. Christianity is not just a matter of performing religious practises. Christianity is fundamentally about Christ. It is Christ who is the content of our faith and the subject of our preaching. No amount of pious acts can guarantee eternal life. It is Christ who guarantees it because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The Year of the Tiger is a year of blessings and grace, such as the beatitudes which we had just heard in the gospel. Let us take a close look at the nature of this zodiac animal. The characteristics of the tiger both reflect and stand in contrast to the nature of God.
1. While tigers are known to be fierce creatures by nature, God's nature is loving and merciful. Our Lord Jesus teaches us to be like God, to love unconditionally and to forgive unceasingly! He calls us friends and in fact, He treats us as His most intimate friends. The Psalmist tells us, “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). The Prophet Isaiah also portrays God as a doting father, who would even condescend to speak in the language of an infant. He tells us not to be afraid and reassures us that He will not forget us, even should a mother forget her child.
2. Everyone knows that tigers are courageous animals. After the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see a wondrous change in Peter – he is no longer afraid as he bravely gives witness to the resurrection of Christ when he is brought before the religious and civil authorities. The Peter who feared arrest when our Lord was dragged off for trial is no longer afraid of being rejected or even executed.
3. Thirdly, the tiger is a predatory carnivore who has keen hearing and sharp night vision. We must similarly listen attentively to the Word of God and be able to discern right from wrong, and distinguish God's will from our own egoistic agendas.
Lastly, Fr Philip would like to draw several lessons from a collection of Chinese idioms which contain the word “tiger.”
The first idiom is “a mountain cannot accommodate two tigers.” The metaphor is obvious: any situation cannot accommodate two strong personalities. Two strong personalities would always be at loggerheads and incompatible. Our Lord Himself tells us in Mt 6:24 “No one can serve two masters: he either hates the one and loves the other, or he clings to the one and despises the other." You cannot serve God and serve money. As people of faith, it is not possible to serve two masters. God should always be our greatest treasure and that which we most value in life.
The second idiom is a play of words: “不可以馬馬虎虎,”which literally translates as “you can’t be a horse and a tiger.” The real meaning of the saying is you cannot be sloppy, doing things callously. When reading the Word of God, we should not take a sloppy and care-less attitude. We must approach everything diligently and carefully.
The third idiom in conjunction with this year of the Tiger is: “生龙活虎”which literally means “live dragon living tiger.” Bear with us. I know this weird saying sounds similar to the English title of the wushu blockbuster, “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon.” I can assure you that the meaning of this saying is more coherent than how it sounds in Chinese. The idiom suggests that one should live a life of vigour and vitality. A rigorous spiritual life should be matched by a healthy body full of vitality. I could say that Fr Philip is living and walking proof of this – He ensures that His personal spiritual life is matched by a healthy mind as well as healthy body. Both Fr Bona and I require more work in this area. We console ourselves with the reassurance that we are “works in progress.”
The final idiom sums up the whole process of spiritual progress, “if we do not enter the tiger’s den, how can we hope to catch the tiger cub.” The English equivalent is simple: “No pain no gain” or its scriptural parallelism in Deuteronomy 34:1-12 “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” If we are unwilling to take risks, how could we attain anything of value? The same could be said of the Christian faith. If a person is not ready to come to Church, how can he discover that this is the family where all are brothers and sisters? Or how could a man discover the treasury of wisdom which God has revealed to mankind without first opening scriptures and reading the Word of God therein? If all these things sound daunting and even overwhelming, you can take the cue from the advice given by a mother tigress to her newborn cub: chew slowly, do not gobble down your food to avoid having indigestion. If one is unwilling to grow in understanding and take new paths for this year, how could he possibly experience God’s choicest blessings? As St Paul writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Lastly, Fr Philip offers this New Year couplet as a blessing for the whole community. I hope that it is not lost in translation: “As the man who is a new creation celebrates the new year, Almighty God grants His abundant Blessings!”
Homily in Mandarin by Father Philip Chua Translated by Father Michael Chua Tuesday, 1st February 2022