Wednesday, March 27, 2013


There is no question when Baxter is excited.  His eyes dilate; his ears perk up; he paces; he makes different sounds, a mixture of meows and chirps.  His full attention goes to the object of his interest whether a bird, another cat, a bug, or the leaves blowing in the wind outside.  When Baxter is on high alert there is no distracting him, and even food won’t deter him from following his focus for the moment.  When whatever caused the excitement passes, then Baxter is back to his old ways—eating and sleeping with an occasional scratch and lick for diversion.

Does anything excite us?  That’s an important question as we celebrate Easter.  This feast of the victory of Christ over sin and death is the centerpiece of our faith.  It is the source of our hope in a power that prevails no matter what life brings us.  It is the sign of God’s unrelenting and unconditional love for us and the world despite our efforts to jilt this love.  Easter comes into our lives with the energy of the Holy Spirit to encourage us to live our faith despite the obstacles and contradictions it encounters.  It calls us out of the rut that routine, lethargy and sin can dig for us.  As the first Easter was a surprise to everyone who encountered its evidence—the soldiers, the women at the tomb, Peter and the other disciples—so this Easter holds something unexpected and new for us as well.

But we won’t discover this new life if we don’t pay attention.  We don’t have automatic instincts like a cat to alert us, but we do have a desire in our hearts that was placed there by God.  We yearn for a better life, a meaningful life, a safe and just world, life after death.  But all too often, this yearning shrinks.  Life’s losses take their toll on hope and meaning.  Life’s unfairness makes us cynical and skeptical about the possibilities for a better world.  The threats and dangers we hear and see in the news make us fearful and suspicious of each other.  Death touches us so personally at times, and in such a devastating and unpredictable way as well, that we can’t imagine something beyond it.  Our heart’s desire grows cold.

The fire we light at the Easter Vigil is meant to rekindle the spark God placed in our hearts.  This is the light of Christ proclaimed in the darkness and sung in the Easter proclamation.  This is the warmth of God’s love moving through human history in the accounts of our faith in the scriptures.  This is what moved our candidates to approach the Church to ask for full communion and the fire of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation.  This is what draws us to the Eucharist to feed the fire of divine love often on the presence of the Risen Lord we share.

We need to allow Easter to waken us to the fire within, placed there by God and nurtured by His Spirit.  It is more than candy and flowers and springtime.  It is the meaning and purpose of our lives, and the reason we go on with hope and confidence when others may despair and give up.  For Christian believers, Easter gives a jolt to our hearts putting them into rhythm with God’s ways and allowing us to walk together with the Lord.

Baxter gets excited over such silly things—birds, bugs, other cats and flying leaves.  We have profound realities laid before us in the Easter mystery.  Will we allow ourselves to get excited?

Thursday, March 21, 2013


I read a blurb the other day about cats and people.  It said that many cats prefer people to other cats, and many people prefer cats to other people.  I can testify to the first proposition on Baxter’s part.  Only one thing regularly sets him off in a hissy fit, other cats.  It doesn't matter the size, gender or disposition of the unknown feline.  If it’s within sight and/or sound of Baxter, it is an instant upset for him.  There are no trial periods to get to know each other, no distinctions of good cats and bad cats, no waiting to see what develops.  There is only one alternative for another cat in Baxter’s world—GET OUT OF HERE!!!  For such an otherwise docile and mild mannered creature, when it comes to keeping company with his own kind, Baxter is rude, intolerant, and down right nasty.  He definitely prefers people to other cats.

We can sometimes get that way with our own kind as well.  No one can please us.  Everyone has something they are lacking in our estimation.  We find something wrong with each other before we know anything right about him or her.  We see others as threats to who we are, and then envy and jealousy begin to color our relationships.  We get into one-upmanship with each other, trying to show that we are better than the next guy in some way—better looking, stronger, richer, more successful, or whatever will separate us from them.  We want to stand apart from and stand over our fellows to make our unique mark on this world, one that others will notice and admire.  Rather than welcome another’s gifts as contributions to a common effort, we find flaws in them, exclude them and plot to outdo them for the sake of our petty egos.

Jesus deals with us so differently.  He looks at what He can salvage from our mistakes, rather than take advantage of them.  He tries to show our situation in the best light, so that His grace can heal and complete it.  He does not view others as a threat to be reckoned with, but as brothers and sisters to value and with whom to share life.  Jesus’ table fellowship reached to the learned and powerful and to the least and sinful.  He didn’t measure others’ worth by the standards of the day, but by the image of God He recognized in each of them.  He met them as diamonds in the rough who with a little polishing and refinement would shine with the light of God’s love as His disciples.  He loved them into the new life of His Spirit, and they, in turn, carried that Spirit to others in the mission of spreading the Good News.

How could Jesus be so powerful to transform people this way?  He loved His own kind.  Unlike Baxter’s aversion for fellow cats and ours for many fellow humans, Jesus welcomed the humanity He shared with others.  They felt comfortable being who they were in His presence, because He was comfortable with His humanity infused with His divine life.  So whether saint or sinner, strong or weak, official or common folk, Jesus spoke to them with respect, encountered them as someone unique and special, and urged them to be better than they ever imagined they could be, because He saw the divine potential in which they were created.  The Lord didn’t lord it over others, but He used His power to raise them up to be able to see themselves and fellow human beings in the light of grace.  In this vision, sinners are forgiven; the poor, meek, persecuted and sorrowing are blessed; strangers and tax collectors are invited to the table; the sick are healed and the dead come to life:  all because Jesus loved His own kind with the divine passion of His sacred heart.

It’s easy to love our pets.  They aren’t like us, and in our adjusting to them, the opposites attract and bond.  It’s a lot harder to love our own kind, so hard that it takes a kind of love that is more than we can give.  This is the love that died for us on the cross, and poured out its Spirit from there.  Pick up this Spirit and nothing seems the same.  Maybe someday even Baxter will be nice to another cat.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Sometimes Baxter doesn't want to be bothered.  He gets in his private space, and he doesn't want to be disturbed there.  He sits or lies down quietly with his eyes either staring into space or half closed.  He makes no sounds.  He stays perfectly still.  He's the picture of peace inside and out.  At these times, Baxter loves his solitude, and he is content to be alone.  He doesn't want to be held, to get some fresh catnip, or to play.  He wants quiet.  He's at home with himself.

We need to find this same sort of solitary space for ourselves.  In today's world, that is not an easy proposition.  We are surrounded so much with sights and sounds from the radio, TV, computer and cell phone, that we sometimes don't know how to shut it all off and enjoy the silence.  We need noise to be comfortable.  We need glitter and lights to keep our attention.  We live on high alert, and then wonder why we are so stressed out.  Silence makes us nervous, and sitting makes us restless.  We have to be doing something, or we feel useless and uncomfortable.  We forget how to truly relax, so we are endlessly searching for the right technique.  We pass through numerous health fads guaranteeing lower blood pressure, less stress and more happiness, and finally, we give up and give in.  We hear, "That's just the way life is today.  Learn to live with it."

But Jesus promises something else.  "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  How does this work in today's world?

First, we can work hard without working frantically and under pressure.  Getting things done doesn't have to do us and others in, if we work together.  The whole job isn’t on our shoulders, but we have to give up some of it, if we want relief.  Next, everything doesn’t have to be done today.  Planning and prioritizing puts tasks in manageable packages.  We can divide the load among ourselves, and set a schedule that spreads the work over time so that we aren't overwhelmed with too much all at once.  Finally, we need to relax.  Trust that your plan will work and that others can do their jobs without anyone hovering over them.  The trick is for it all to come together in the end.  A key to this happening is cooperation and good will among the workers.

Peace of mind doesn't come magically.  But it can be helped by our using our minds in working smart, and using our hearts in working together to accomplish a common goal.  Then we may just find the time to pull back, be quiet and enjoy our privacy.  Baxter does.  Try following his example, and discover that God is with you in the peace and quiet.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Baxter costs.  He costs money in vet bills, food, litter and occasional toys and pet paraphernalia.  He costs time in making sure he is fed twice a day, and his litter is cleaned once a day.  He costs my convenience to turn on the spigot when he wants a drink or allow him in my lap when he needs some up-close contact.  Having a pet in the house costs its owner in many ways, but it’s worth it.  Not that Baxter pays any of his own bills or does any of his own chores around the house.  His house servant—yours truly—has sole responsibility for such things.  Still, Baxter is worth all the expense and bother for one reason—companionship.

He greets me whenever I come home.  He usually likes to have me around and misses me when I am gone for long periods.  He senses when I am having a bad day or am not feeling well, and he tries to stay close.  If I feel ill and lie down for a nap, he lies against me for comfort.  If he’s sitting with his back to me and I call his name, his ears turn backwards to pay attention to the call.  If he is lying on the floor and I say his name, his tail swishes, and he repeats the movement each time his name is said.  As my Dad used to say, “He’s some cat!”  Baxter is a great companion.  We have learned to communicate with each other, to live together with our separate set of needs, and to care that each other is there.  Baxter is definitely worth the bother of having him around, and I believe he thinks the same of me.

But there is a third party in our house whose companionship is shared—God.  God is certainly not another cat, but He knows the feline outlook on life because He created these fascinating creatures.  God did become a human being in Jesus, so I believe I have some advantage on Baxter in the divine relationship area.  God lives with us, Baxter and me.  Most of the time He’s a silent companion in the house.  He’s little bother.  He adds no additional costs to the household budget.  He goes along with our routines, and doesn’t demand much.  His special food is taken at the church down the street in Christ’s body and blood.  But instead of being fed, He feeds us.  He’s quiet most of the time, but He likes some special music on occasion—hymns, religious songs, Christmas carols and Easter anthems.  We speak throughout the day, sometimes for short periods and at other times for longer conversations.  He doesn’t say much, nor does He often give direct advice.  He most often offers inspiration, encouragement, consolation, and support just by His presence, but sometimes He delivers a challenge, or even a rebuke.  All in all, God is very easy to live with, if I just welcome His presence and take Him for what He is—the unconditional love that is the eternal truth about life.

God is in your house too.  Take the time to notice Him.  That’s all He asks.  No special food or quarters or personal accommodations are required for Him.  But He is the best companion you could ever wish for, even better than the best pet.  Welcome Him, talk with Him, let Him get close.  You won’t regret it.