by Fr Stephen Chin
The Year of the Cow of the Chinese Lunar Calendar will begin on 26 January.
The cow is the emblem of spring and agriculture. God is the author of spring and the giver of the abundance of crops, trees, fruits, animals and human life. We must acknowledge him as our Creator and Provider of what we have in this world and be grateful to him.
In agriculture, man should be conscientious and not poison the crops and fruits of the earth through various forms of insecticides and weedicides that are copiously sprayed over Mother Earth, causing a lot of sicknesses and debilitating side effects to humans.
The cow is the second of the symbolical animals corresponding to the 12 terrestrial branches. The creature is believed to be deaf in its ears and hears with its nose.
Are we using things for the wrong purpose? The ear is meant for hearing and nose for smelling. This is the right way! Do we follow the wrong way by being deaf to the Word of God and trying to hear with our nose? On the contrary, we should hear the Word of God and obey it and smell the good food and delicacies and eat them with thanksgiving being rendered to God for the wonderful gift of all sorts of fine dishes.
The cow is a great symbol of strength although it is slow moving. It is also the symbol of the strength we have from God who grants us the power to be rulers of creation including the cow, ruling with kindness and charity as the Lord God does.
The meat of the cow is seldom eaten out of respect for the ‘Yellow Cow’. Beef Tea is considered to have great strengthening powers, owing to the beast’s muscular and sturdy character. Cow hides are exported in great quantities from Hangkow & other Yangtze ports.
We should realise that our strength comes from God’s providence of food and drink to strengthen our physical needs. We need to acknowledge that God through his Son gives us the all-round physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual strength. But above all, God gives us the spiritual strength through his Divine Word and the Sacraments and his graces (both sanctifying and actual graces) for our actual needs to fight against the enemies of our souls.
Milk from the cow nourishes children and adults alike throughout the world. This reminds us also of our mother’s milk that we suck tenderly from our mother’s breast. Thanks be to God for such a good mother we have. Not only does she give us this nourishing drink but she also nourishes us by her loving words from her heart to teach us tenderly to know, love and serve God.
The usefulness of the cow is so tremendous that, in China, few eat the meat of the cow, and in India, the cow which is treated with great reverence is raised to the great dignity of a Holy Cow! We who have been created in God’s image and are made to rule over the whole of creation should be more holy than that Holy Cow. We are made children of our loving God by him. Hence, we should live up to this great and wonderful dignity as sons and daughters of God, by doing with great diligence and love, the will of God, our Heavenly Father, and praying and glorifying him and thanking him all the days of our life.
The celebration of welcoming spring, especially on 5 February with the ceremonial beating of the cow with a willow branch to stimulate the revival of spring, should remind us of the grace and of the Spring of Eternal Life granted us by God in Christ Jesus who teaches us to be mournful for our sins and instructs us by beating us as a great teacher not to do evil, as the devil prowls around to destroy us by leading us to sin.
The colour of the cow is worked out every year according to astrological and geomantic omens:
if the colour of the cow is yellow, the year will be fruitful and consequently there will be a bumper harvest.
if it is red, calamity and fire will be widespread.
if it is white, there will be plentiful mourning.
We see however the colours of the cow in a ‘baptismal’ sense with a Christian discernment.
Yellow signifies fruitfulness and bumper harvest. God is the Provider of fruitfulness and of bumper harvest.
Red signifies calamity and fire. Evil deeds by men will evoke calamity and fire that is punishment by God to instruct us. Hence, we should learn the lesson of living a good and saintly life to receive not calamity but blessings from the Good Lord of this universe and this mother earth.
White signifies plentiful mourning. Let us learn to mourn for our sins and the sins of humankind throughout the ages, to repent and to make reparation to God, for the inhuman acts human beings have committed throughout the ages. We mourn also for our departed and beloved ones, relatives and friends. Let us vividly recall to mind the shortness of our life on this earth and be awake and alert always, to make use of every opportunity to do good in season and out of season, that is, to do God’s Holy Will at all times so that our mourning will be turned into joy.
A bronze cow is believed to be able to suppress evils. A large bronze sculpture of a water buffalo was placed on the bank of the Summer Palace lake at Peking so that this sacred and powerful animal would suppress evil spirits, coming to cause disturbance to lakes, rivers and seas.
For us, God is the Almighty God who effectively suppresses all evils and gives us protection, peace, calm, quiet, harmony, joy, love, strength and eternal life. To him, we must turn as the God of all creation and provider of all that we need. First, give to your Heavenly Father what is needed to be given to him, and then what you need, even if you don’t ask for it your Heavenly Father who knows what you need, will give it to you.
The Tail of the Cow ‘Foretells’ the coming of spring. If it is uplifted, spring will be early. Let us be vigilant and be up early to praise and glorify God in prayer in the morning so that the spring of life will always bear fruits. This reminds us that “The early bird catches the worm”. Let us then make use of the early spring of life to amass and abound in good works for the Lord.
If the cow’s tail is hanging down and the cow lying down, it is the symbol of a late spring. The hanging down of the tail of the cow symbolically recalls to our mind the lethargy, laziness, putting off to another day of the work or duty we must perform, and the tardiness in doing our duty. All these should jolt us from sleep to be wide awake to God’s ways of doing things. Arise from your sleep and praise the Lord, adore and glorify him, and thank him and ask for his help to do our work well right from the start of the early morn so that we may not be late in doing anything that is God’s Will, so that we will not be late to enter the door to heaven after it is closed!
Recently, we heard of the Mad Cow Disease in England passing to humans. This disease is still relatively a localised one which may spread wider to unwieldy proportions.
We may become the spiritual mad cow – self-inflicted with the spiritual mad cow disease. What causes it? Sins against God and our neighbour causes it. Let us turn away from sin, whether small or great, or else it will turn to unwieldy proportions and cuts us off from the Well Spring of life.
“God does not need the flesh of bullocks. The whole of creation is his. All these creatures, including the cow, belong to him. Hence all creation should adore, praise and thank him.”
“My meat is to do the will of my Heavenly Father. God’s Holy Will is our overall concern in this life to attain full and eternal happiness.”
“What I want is not the sacrifice of bullocks. What I want is a repentant heart and a thanksgiving sacrifice.”
“Fat cows of Bashan” is an uncomplimentary remark made by Amos on women who have fattened themselves from the substance of the poor widows and orphans and this is a lesson for every one of us. In this new year, we strive to do the contrary, that is, to serve the widows and orphans and the poor with love.
May the above Christian reflections fuel our minds with some good thoughts for the year 2009, the Year of the Cow.
In this New Year of the Cow, let us be united with the Well Spring of Life, Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us adore, praise and thank the Lord of creation for so many blessings of the past years.
Let us never allow sin to cause the spiritual mad disease in our souls but have a vibrant faith, new hope and deep love in bearing new life and energy in good works, making reparation for our past sins, and offer a thanksgiving sacrifice to the Good Lord of benevolence.
May we be vigilant to rise early from sleep to serve the living God in season and out of season. May we be filled with God’s many blessings for the year 2009 – the Year of the Cow.