The following homily was delivered by School President Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, SJ on 30 January 2014 during the institutional mass in celebration of the Lunar New Year of the Horse 2014.
In the holy card that you will all receive today, you will see a Chinese depiction of the Nativity scene, with a horse seemingly worshipping the infant Jesus. You may wonder what the Christmas scene has to do with the Chinese new year. Well, in the Hokkien dialect, the Chinese new year is actually referred to as “Chinese Christmas.”
Just as Christmas, for people influenced by Western culture, is a time for thanksgiving and family reunions, so the Chinese new year is the most festive season in Chinese culture. It is also a time when people make special efforts to be with their families. For Chinese Christians like most of us, therefore, we can link our devotion to the Holy Family to our celebration of the Chinese new year.
2014 being the lunar new year of the horse, what might Christianity have to say about horses? What do horses symbolize in the Bible?
The book of Revelation contains two contrasting images of the horse. In the sixth chapter, there is a book or scroll with seven seals, and the Lamb of God opens the first four seals, thus unleashing the now famous four horses of the Apocalypse, representing conquest, war, famine and death. These are understood to be messengers of the Last Judgment. These four horses, colored white, red, black, and pale, represent brute force, power, and worldly strength that can inflict untold suffering.
In the Hebrew mindset, quite similar to the Chinese, horses represent vitality and success. 马到成功, success comes with the horse, is a common greeting as the year of the horse is ushered in.
Passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament) contrast reliance on worldly strength with trust in the power of God. Consider Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Or Psalm 33:17, “A horse is a vain hope for deliverance, despite all its strength it cannot save.”
The first representation of the biblical horse therefore has to do with worldly power, as military might was measured in terms of numbers of horses, and this power’s ability to cause suffering for the multitudes as the end-times approach.
The second image of the horse has to do with judgment and purification. In the nineteenth chapter of Revelation, Jesus appears as the Word of God mounting a white horse. He is called Faithful and True, and he is accompanied by the armies of heaven, riding white horses and garbed in fine linen, symbolizing purity. Rather than just being a grand vision of heaven, the coming of Jesus on a white horse symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. He comes to bring judgment upon individuals and nations, and wages a final battle to defeat Evil once and for all.
It is said that the end of the world will be accompanied by a lot of natural calamities. Every so often, we are tempted to think that the end times must be coming because there are so many tragedies around us. When we have questions about our existence, but no answers, it is easier to depend on things that we can grasp, such as religious devotions or feng shui practices that are very popular at this time of the year. People indulge in these to assuage their own fears. Birth signs and horoscopes, with their expert interpreters who offer advice that sounds good for anyone to follow at any time, respond to the same primal fear of the unknown future.
For a practicing Christian, the best advice is still to trust not in horses and what they represent in popular culture, but as the Psalmist says, in the name of the Lord our God. At the back of the stampita, you will see the Chinese text that also adorns our stage: 万马奔腾，主恩满溢. Freely translated it means, God’s grace overflows like ten thousand horses galloping.
Horses are majestic symbols of strength and judgment, but in the Bible, our emphasis must be on the Word of God who comes to us riding a white horse. It is Christ who will help us conquer evil and all its representations, including the temptation to fear the unknown. Whatever this new year brings, we can aspire to joining the armies of heaven, following the Word of God, the one who is Faithful and True.