Thursday, 14 February 2008

For Dean...

The Rabbit on the Moon

In our day and age children no longer believe in rabbits on the moon. But all Japanese know the charming legend and still see in the shadows on the full moon a rabbit threshing his rice. I believe that other countries see a woman reading or the man in the moon.

All these legends show us that our ancestors looked for meaning in the universe. Here is the Japanese legend:

Once upon a time long ago, a monkey, a rabbit, and a fox lived together as friends.

During the day they frolicked on the mountain; at night they went back to the forest.

This went on for some years.

The Lord of Heaven heard about it and wanted to see if it were really true.

He went to them disguised as an old wanderer.

"I have traveled through mountains and valleys and I am tired out. Could you give me something to eat?" said he, laying down his staff in order to rest.

The monkey went off at once to gather nuts that he presented; the fox brought an offering from his fish trap in the river.

The rabbit ran through the fields in every direction but came back with nothing.

The monkey and the fox made fun of him: "You are really good for nothing."

The little rabbit was so discouraged that he asked the monkey to gather some thistles and the fox to set fire to them.

They did so.

Then the little rabbit said to the old man,

"Please eat me," and threw himself into the flames.

The pilgrim was pierced to the heart by this sacrifice, and wept, saying,

"Each one deserves praise; there are neither winners nor losers. But the little rabbit has given an exceptional proof of love."

So saying, he restored the rabbit to his original form and took the little body to heaven to be buried in the palace of the moon.

The utter poverty of the little rabbit is like that of the child who said, "Pardon me, God, I have nothing to offer." Both exemplify the attitude from which true prayer arises.

Whatever I offer God is really nothing in God's eyes: "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (Jas 1:17).

For every wild animal of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills....

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and all that is in it are mine. (Ps 50:10, 12)

The worthy offering is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, an appeal to God in the midst of suffering: "Then you will delight in right sacrifices" (Ps 51:19). The greatest thing we can offer or do is never more than a stone thrown high in the air that ultimately falls to earth. The renown of famous people is the same: Their exploits may flash across the history of humanity, but they soon fade away without leaving a trace.

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mt 24:35). And what are these words that will live forever? "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" (Jn 11:25 26).

Who could dare to speak such words? Christ, the incarnate Word, who said to his Father, "Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me" (Heb 10:5).

This latter phrase is translated from the Greek of the Septuagint, but in Hebrew the psalm reads, "You have given me an open ear" (Ps 40:6). Christ, in taking flesh, like a slave whose earlobe is pierced, had as his food to do his Father's will and to accomplish his Father's works. "Then I said, See, God, I have come to do your will, O God,' as in the scroll of the book it is written of me" (Heb 10:7). "And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb 10:10).

This mystery of incarnation and of suffering is summed up in the "Amen" that concludes Christian prayer. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, "was not Yes and No'; but in him it is always Yes'. 'For this reason it is through him that we say the Amen,' to the glory of God" (2 Cor 1:19 20).

There is, of course, a long way to go before we can apply the legend of the moon rabbit to Christ. Our ancestors in the Far East expressed in this tale their deep desire for authentic love such as was fully realized in Christ. Perhaps we may say that the Christ whom they did not know reveals himself here as living in all persons of good will, as Paul says to the Colossians: "Your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). The child who begs pardon for having nothing to offer, the rabbit who can give nothing but himself, share in a certain way in the movement of Christ who, in his poverty, had nothing but his body to offer in sacrifice. In truth all real prayer, if it is rooted in our nothingness, includes at the same time the fathomless riches of Christ.
[From a Carmelite Homily]

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