Generosity of the Chinese New Year

Today, February 8, we celebrate the start of the Year of the Fire Monkey. As one of the spirit animals in the Chinese zodiac, the monkey is easily one of the most celebrated animals in Chinese culture. In classic Chinese literature, Sun Wukong (孙悟空) is one of the most famous characters, especially from Journey to the West (西游记) fame. Even in Indian literature and Hindu culture and religion, we find some parallelism with Hanuman (हनुमान्), especially in Ramayana (रामायणम्). In modern times, Sun Wukong’s character has also inspired the anime Dragon Ball Z, with its main character bearing the name Son Goku, Japanese for Sun Wukong. In both epics, as well as in the anime, we find that Sun Wukong, Hanuman and Son Goku are great symbols of generosity.

Painting as a decoration on the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace in Beijing, China. Photograph by Rolf Müller, April 17, 2005. Source.
Sun Wukong in yellow. Journey to the West painting as a decoration on the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace in Beijing, China.
Photograph by Rolf Müller, April 17, 2005. GNU Free License. Source.

Amidst the feasts, the giving of ang baos (红包) and gifts, the celebrations, and the banquets, we are reminded that this new lunar year is about generosity. As in literature, generosity can be seen as providing universal benefit in large-scale social constructs and biological systems as well.

In international relations and global affairs, analysts use game theory to simulate and predict possible outcomes between two or more players. Perhaps if generosity can come into the equation, the world will be a better place to be in.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania simulated this mathematically with the Prisoner’s Dilemma and showed that generosity leads to evolutionary success. Although they somewhat retracted this after some time because evolution favors selfishness by default, it still does not mean that socially, generosity can’t come into play to make for better civil society. As humans, we are called to be better, to be more. We also see that extortionists are punished in the long run. These are further demonstrated in a variety of other games and decision theories such as the Dictator’s game, the Ultimatum game and the Public Goods game. There is much hope. Analyzing these further, Elizabeth Singer writes in Quanta and Scientific American, “Ultimately the entire population converts from selfish to generous strategies.

In this time of Chinese-ness, generosity, and love, I am reminded of the following homily that was delivered by Fr Chrys Exaltacion SJ, a graduate student at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, last November 8, at the STM Chapel for the Filipino community mass. Fr Chrys is a Filipino Jesuit priest who belongs to the China Province of the Society of Jesus. Published with permission:

THE GENEROUS GIVER
Chrysostom B. Exaltacion, S.J.

One of my favorite Chinese characters is the character 愛 (ai), which means love. The traditional character for love consists of two hands carrying (bearing) a heart. This image captures what today’s Gospel is about: the generous giver.

In the Gospel, Jesus praises the poor widow. For unlike those rich people who have contributed from their surplus, the poor widow, from her poverty, has contributed all she had – her whole livelihood. In other words, she has offered to God all that she is. Her very heart is in her giving. That is love – a total offering of self to and for the other. It is a giving that does not count the cost.

This kind of giving is what we find in God. God not only gives us what we need, but what is best for us. God gives us God’s very self in Jesus Christ. And every Eucharist that we celebrate is a living testimony to God’s generous, self-giving love. We witness God’s total self-giving as we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, God’s only Son, in the Eucharist.

天主是爱 (God is Love) Chinese paper carving found in the room of Ms Arlene Trinidad-Choo, Principal, Xavier School Nuvali
天主是爱 (God is Love) Chinese paper carving found in the room of Ms Arlene Trinidad-Choo, Principal, Xavier School Nuvali

As Christians, we are to follow Christ’s way of giving: a selfless giving that does not count the cost. It is a giving in which we bear our very heart – our very self – in the palm of our hands to be offered to and for the other. Yet, it is never easy to live out God’s invitation for such generous, selfless way of giving.

In a world where individualism reigns, we develop this so-called “me-first” philosophy. In a world where competition becomes a way of life, we then become afraid to give (or to share) very ourselves for fear of being surpassed by others. In a world where love is wanting, this generous, selfless way of giving seems almost unthinkable.

But for us Christians, this is what it means to give: to offer our very heart, our very self to and for others, so that others may live and grow and bear fruit as well. Because the Christian way of giving is rooted in self-giving love, we don’t actually lose ourselves. It is like fire.

Imagine that we are all candles. If we share our fire (i.e. our love) with others, our fire does not diminish at all. In fact it is multiplied. The same thing happens when we give ourselves to God and to others. We do not actually diminish, but grow and multiply. We can actually see and experience this in our daily life.

For instance, if we don’t give ourselves generously to our work, we lose our jobs in the long run. If we don’t give ourselves sincerely to our studies, we fail. If we don’t give ourselves wholeheartedly to our relationship with our family – our spouse, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters – we become divided, broken. In the end, we feel empty.

On the other hand, if we give ourselves totally to God – by giving ourselves, our very heart, to the people we love and to the things we do – we then experience that sense of fulfillment. By giving ourselves, we gain ourselves; we experience wholeness.

For this reason, Jesus encourages us to put our hearts – our very selves – in our giving.

To end my sharing, allow me to share with you a beautiful prayer I learned from a priest: “What You give, Lord, I want. What You want, Lord, I give.”

This prayer seems so simple, yet it’s so difficult to realize. For not all things that the Lord gives us are as appealing as we expect them to be. His will sometimes disturb our peace, or sense of control. On the other hand, not all things that the Lord asks of us make us want to give to God, especially when the Lord asks us to let go of ourselves and let God be God.

In this Mass, let us ask the Lord for that grace to be generous givers: to give and not to count the cost. Let us ask the Lord for courage to give our very hearts, our very selves, to God and to others. May we be able to say this prayer with great trust and confidence in God: “What You give, Lord, I want. What You want, Lord, I give.”

With this, I leave you with a short clip of the practice performance of Hangad’s Paghahandog by the Boston College Flipino Community Mass Choir:

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

One Response

  1. Most of us aren’t generous but only to ourselves. We should learn to be generous to others, to share, a bit at the beginning, more later, with people around us. That brings a new sense of life that empowers us to do things better. All sort of things. Better.

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