Sunday, March 27, 2011


I feed Baxter in phases. He gets 1/2 cup of weight reducing kibble twice a day — unfortunately, it doesn’t work at reducing his weight. Each quarter cup is served in two courses, usually separated by some time. You may wonder why I go to all this bother. Well, it wasn’t my idea. I would love to dump a bunch of kibble in the bowl for the day, and let him nibble on it as he fancies. However, I have learned through hard experience that this style just won’t work.

When it comes to food, Baxter’s recessive canine gene kicks in, and he gobbles whole whatever is placed before him. His digestive system though is fully feline, and it rejects this assault on his delicate stomach. The result is a mess.

So I feed Baxter in phases to make his stomach happy and me happy. Smaller portions, spread over time with full nutrition coming through the course of a day is a recipe for success. It takes more effort and discipline on my part, but it makes for a happier and cleaner house.

We might try this approach with other, more significant and meaningful things in our lives. We don’t have to absorb them all at once. We can take them in phases to digest them fully and make them a part of the fabric of our lives. We act prudently to get a full result.

Prudence is a virtue often missed in our dealings in today’s world. We want it all and we want it now. We get easily frustrated with steady progress that takes mini steps. We get excited about a special feast for a holiday, but we may be bored with our daily fare. Still, it is our regular diet that supports our strength and endurance for a healthy life. So with our lives of faith.

Prudence teaches us how to change our character by biting off no more than we can chew, but keeping at it until all the nourishment is eaten. If you want to pray more, pray a little more each day or week. If you want to fast for Lent, don’t starve yourself but cut back on the portions. If you want to be more generous with almsgiving, don’t write one check for $1,000 but ten checks over ten months for $100. If you want to get someone back to church, invite them for a particular Sunday Mass with perhaps breakfast to follow. The little way can make a big difference in time to change our character. Saint Therese of Lisieux knew that well.

Prudence is a measured approach to incorporate into real life what we treasure in the ideal. Our ideals should always be bigger than the conditions and attributes we have and hold right now. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be ideals. But prudence brings these visions of a full life and the values they embody down to earth, and gradually shapes our conditions and character accordingly. So to stop abortions, limit them through education and legislation, and change the conditions that make a person feel desperate about a pregnancy. To stop war, begin to insist that we talk to each other in our families, communities and among the community of nations to work out our problems. To end world hunger, waste less food and prepare more at home, then share the cost difference with a food bank. These practices won’t result in ideal conditions, but they will be better ones than we face now. The true virtue of prudence is not about compromising our ideals, but keeping us on track for getting better at realizing them. When God became incarnate in Christ to save us, He did not effect our salvation in an instant. Jesus took a lifetime and beyond to reveal the Father, for He lived, died, rose and sent forth the Spirit who continues His saving work in us and the world. The ingredients are set. The recipe is clear. They continue to feed us in our time and place until He comes again. This is what we profess at each Eucharist. God’s faithful prudence should inspire our own.

Baxter’s voracious appetite has been tamed by my measured feeding practices. Our appetite for God’s Kingdom on earth needs the discipline of prudence to use the Church’s teachings and practices, to live better lives in a better world. By now, Baxter has learned his feeding routine and resigned himself to it. Maybe we will discover how to be fed by our faith this Lent, and begin the steady path to a happier life.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Baxter is worried. Gas prices have increased significantly the past month. I heard in the news that a gallon on average rose 46 cents. Baxter doesn’t understand all the economics of oil price increases, but he does understand that if I have to spend more for gas, he may get less in treats. So he’s worried.

The price of oil affects so many things we use every day to get along in this world. Food, clothing, pharmaceuticals, household products are all more expensive when the price of oil rises. Oil lubricates more than our cars. It makes our world run smoothly. At this point in history, our everyday lives would probably stop in their tracks if oil, its refined products, and their many uses were no longer available to us. We would go back to a more primitive life style, less comfortable, convenient and connected throughout the world.

Integrity is the oil of our spiritual lives, and like the product that is often hidden in our physical existence, this virtue quietly supports and advances our lives of faith. However, it is a topic that we hear little about today. We are bombarded in the news with talk of justice and rights, of conflicting interests, and even of calls for compassion and clemency. But under it all is the need for integrity in our lives, and we don’t hear much about this key virtue.

Integrity (along with prudence, a topic for another day) is the source of know-how in our spirituality. If we have integrity, we know how to apply justice when different person’s rights are competing. If people of integrity sit down at the same table, they can get beyond their competing interests because they know that they are invested in each other. Integrity allows us to discern the difference between forgiveness and accountability and know that there is no contradiction between holding people responsible for their actions while never banishing them from our lives. Integrity tells us that we have a stake in each other’s life, and we can’t live as if what we do matters only to me and not us. It is not about what I have and you have, but what we hold together, and the most precious things in life are shared, not owned by anyone — love, creation, family, friends, God in Christ’s Spirit.

The word “integrity” means wholeness. It’s the virtue which brings life’s meaning all together at the center and applies it through all the ups and downs, blessings and sorrows life brings. It holds you together when you think you can’t take any more of the tension and pain. It fills out the pleasures of living by pointing them to a deeper goodness that is not fleeting. It lets you know you are not alone when you feel abandoned and betrayed. For the person of faith, integrity is rooted in God for He is the source of all that is, He made us in His image, and we are bonded together in Him as the Body of Christ. God made us to be whole, and His grace sustains our integrity. Sin breaks it apart.

Lent is a time to do an integrity check on ourselves. To make sure that there are no leaks, that we are using it efficiently when it is needed, and that we pay the price that is called for, even if we don’t like it. As we read in Luke’s Gospel, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” No one can advance in the spiritual life without integrity rooted in their faith.

Without oil, our world stops. Without integrity, our spirits shrink from the deception, distrust and fear that tear us apart. Whatever the price, we cannot afford to forfeit this virtue for the sake of our shared humanity and its salvation by God. Pray for the know how to live a life of integrity.

Don’t worry, Baxter. There will still be treats at bedtime.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Meet Baxter

As some of you know, Baxter is my cat. We have been together for ten years, and although I provide food and shelter, Baxter owns the space and demands service. Cats are that way, you know.

Three things drive Baxter’s life: food, sleep and curiosity. Food is first. He is a big boy, and all the diet kibble in limited quantities I force upon him does not seem to have much effect upon his weight. Baxter loves to eat. Anytime, anywhere he is ready for a snack, or better, a full meal. He sometimes tries to deceive me into thinking I didn’t feed him, so that he can get a second round. (I’ve caught on to his tricks!) I have lectured him on acting more like a dog with an indiscriminate appetite rather than a finicky cat, but he does not heed my advice. Baxter just loves to eat!

He also loves to sleep. He has many bedrooms throughout the house, and he can find a relaxed posture in many different contortions — on his back, on his side, curled in a ball, with a paw over his eyes, or paws under his body in a lotus position. Baxter doesn’t just sleep to regain his energy. He loves to sleep. He enters into it fully, and cannot be disturbed when he is deep into it. The only thing that can arouse him from a serious nap is, of course, food. Otherwise, when he is sleeping, the world can pass Baxter by, and he has no regrets about missing anything.

Finally, Baxter is a curious cat. He hates closed doors. He has to know what’s behind them, even if it’s only a closet or the garage. He perks up at strange sounds, ears up and tail moving excitedly. He is mesmerized by birds at the window, and won’t let them out of his sight. He goes on high alert when he hears or sees something new on the horizon, and there is often no distracting his attention — not even with food. Baxter’s curiosity has gotten him into trouble at times. He has been trapped in closets for hours, been freezing in the garage because I forgot he was there, and he jumped off a 15 foot deck once over his excitement at the birds — he qualified for the Olympics with that one.

Why am I telling all of these things about my cat, Baxter? Because his antics have something to teach us about Lent. Fasting isn’t about hating food, but learning to appreciate it more as God’s gift to savor and relish. We eat less to taste more of the goodness that God offers us in creation. Lent is a time to slow down, rest in the Lord, gain confidence that God saves the world. We don’t. A sleeping cat exudes peace, and Lent is about finding peace with and among ourselves through God’s healing and reconciliation. Lastly, Lent is meant to spur our curiosity about God and God’s ways in our world. It is a time to reflect a little more deeply about the movements of the Spirit in our lives, and to understand more thoroughly our Tradition of the Catholic Christian faith. What’s behind the doors to the sacred we call the sacraments? From a faith perspective, what should we be alert to in the sights and sounds of our times? How do we capture a renewed excitement about our faith that will free us to jump into new efforts at sharing it?

A blessed Lent to us all from Baxter and his housemate.