Wednesday, April 24, 2013


The other day Baxter was lying on my lap in a trance as I scratched behind his ear.  (He loves me to scratch that spot!).  Suddenly, he perks up, sits up straight with eyes wide open, and he is following something.  At first, I can't see it.  Baxter is bobbing up and down, back and forth, and I can't figure out what is exciting him.  He ignores me and is totally occupied by whatever he sees moving around him.  Nothing I do gets his attention back.  He is riveted to the flying phantom that ruined his entranced pleasure.  Once hooked, he was not to be deterred until he captured the elusive object.

It was a tiny gnat!  I finally caught sight of the bugger and invited it to its final fly-by.  Once gone, Baxter settled back to his lap of luxury with another session of behind the ear massage therapy.  O, what a life!!!

The Risen Lord is sometimes like that gnat.  He comes to us unexpectedly, seemingly out of nowhere, and we can't figure out what He is at first.  We are lost in whatever entrances us at the time, and we don't see the tiny movement of a different kind of being.  Unlike cats, our sensors are often so absorbed with the present situation that we can't acknowledge anything outside our current interest or concern.  We need to develop a sixth sense fostered by our faith--a sense of the mysterious in the midst of the ordinary, a sense for the transcendent among the mundane, a sense for the holy in the little things, as Saint Theresa, the Little Flower, urged.  The transformation of resurrected life comes from within, from the midst of things, from noticing another dimension to life almost hidden within the pleasures, problems, people and events of daily life.  Its hints are often as elusive as a gnat, and its energy and persistence are like this tiny nuisance.  It is the power of grace breaking through the numbness of our souls to bother us, to wake us up, to get us moving to God's urgings in our lives.  But unlike a gnat, we can't just swat this pesky divine invader away.  He is always there, and He won't go away or die.  He rose from the dead to be with us until the end of the age.

So look again.  He's there.  He won't let us alone.  If the grave couldn't contain Him, our indifference certainly can't.  He doesn't sting or bite.  He just wakes us up to something bigger and better, deeper and stronger than ourselves.  We are moved "by the Love which turns the sun and the other stars" as Dante described it.  It is flying unseen and silent all around us.  Wake up and rise up with it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


We are into the shedding season now.  Baxter is getting rid of those extra layers of hair as summer approaches.  Needless to say, that means that there is a lot of extra cleaning at this time of the year.  Pet him and your hand collects a coating of hair.  Brush him and the instrument is loaded with excess hair loosened with every stroke.  Sometimes Baxter can just be moving from one spot to another, and if the sun is shining brightly, I can see the floating tufts of hair follow him as he goes.  Thankfully, the shredding season lasts only a couple of weeks, so it is all manageable.  There is no way around it, so I just accept it as part of cat care, and buy some extra lint rollers to avoid looking like a feline cousin.

This is shedding season for us as well.  We are shedding the heavy, bulking coats of winter for shorts and sandals.  We are leaving behind the salt and snow shovels for mulch and garden tools.  We are abandoning the indoors with their TV and computers, for the patio tables and lawn furniture of the back yard.  Nature affects the way we go about our lives, shedding the protections from winter for the lighter, freer style of warm summer days and evenings.

Easter calls us to shed some other coats as well.  Look to the first disciples for examples.  They had to let go of some of their ideas about God and His ways.  No one expected the resurrection of Jesus as the first followers encountered it.  They were looking for a Messiah who would free them from the Roman yoke and make them proud and prosperous again.  They were set free, but from more than military and political subjugation.  They were set free from their sin and from the fear of the powers of evil.  They felt like they had more of life's blessings, so they needed less of its material possessions and shared what they had more generously.  Their pride grew, but it was not in what they had done.  They came to witness to what God had done in Jesus for them and for everyone who would accept Him.  They had to shed those ideas that covered up how God really was the Lord of Life, and they had to travel more lightly with a deeper commitment to the power of God's grace to change others and the world.  Shedding their image of an avenging, mean-spirited God allowed them to be free of their fears, generous with their lives, and hopeful that God's ways would prevail, even if they didn't know how at the time.

Easter changed everything for the first disciples, and it can do so for us.  But we have to shed our cold, wintry hearts; our stubborn, closed minds; and our selfish, greedy attitudes.  In this way, our lighter spirits will allow the power of divine love to heal us and bring us peace.  Baxter's lighter coat leaves tufts of hair around the house, but our lighter spirits leave a reordered world where we can all find hope and confidence in God again.  If we put up with a little shedding of our egos, we will feel more comfortable in the warmth of divine love.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Perhaps nothing is as distinctive about a cat than its purr.  It's an automatic response to contentment and pleasure in the species.  Baxter purrs at the drop of a hat.  Scratch his neck or chin or back, and he purrs.  Turn on the faucet for a drink, and he purrs.  Offer him a treat, and he purrs.  He sometimes purrs for no apparent reason.  He just rolls over on the floor and purrs, or sits looking out the window purring.  I guess Baxter is a happy cat.

And his happiness is contagious.  When I pet Baxter and he begins to purr, it is therapy for any stress, frustration or upset I might be feeling.  Hearing that soothing sound and feeling the quiet vibration through his body communicate a peace and contentment that I can't resist.  No matter how bad the day might have been, it seems to be calmed by that distinctive tone and rhythm.  It says that a better condition is only a scratch away.  It puts the troubles of the day into a different perspective.  Hearing that sound and feeling that tickle says there's a better time ahead, another chance at getting it right.  Forget what is past, and enjoy the little pleasures of the present moment.  Tomorrow, we can begin again, fresh and hopeful.

The risen Lord wants to have a similar effect on us.  He says time and again in His resurrection appearances, “Peace.”  Despite our fears, despite our pain and disappointments, despite the marks of past hurts, despite the threats we face and the worries they create, “Peace.”  This word of resurrected life is not a casual greeting like “Hello.”  It's an invitation to come and sit for a while.  Listen to the sound of God speaking to us.  Feel the deep sense of peace that comes with knowing that the worst has happened, and we didn't just survive it.  We were transformed by it.  We have become a people of God's very own Spirit.  We are claimed by the divine life in baptism and that mark can never be erased.  It vibrates in our souls when our conscience guides our thoughts and deeds, when our instinct is to do the generous thing and not the self-serving one, when we find a reason to begin each day with hope that good things still await us.  We feel it when we forgive another, when we have compassion for the poor and suffering, when we find the courage to stand up to wrongdoing and injustice.  We hear the Lord's peace when we listen in silence to our own hearts, and they are full of a presence that overwhelms us.  Like the purr of a cat, the peace of the Risen One is contagious.  It gets inside us and changes our outlook, disposition and actions.  It is new life.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


I have mentioned before that Baxter is a creature of habit.  He likes routine and the familiar, yet, every once in a while, Baxter surprises me.  He starts something new.  Recently, he began to lie on a table I use when I want to eat dinner in front of the television.  He never bothered with it before, but now it has become one of his favorite spots.  Sometimes he surprises me with his eating preferences.  Usually, Baxter is a strict kibble cat food muncher with some salmon, chicken or tuna thrown in occasionally for a special treat.  But then, out of the blue, he will beg for some vegetable I’m eating.  Asparagus and cabbage seem to tickle his fancy, and sometimes a bit of carrot.  I guess variety is the spice of life, so Baxter wants a dash of something different from time to time to season his diet.

God works with us that way as well.  He has a set routine that He usually follows.  Sunday Mass, the ten commandments and teachings of the Church, the practice of the works of mercy, and the cultivation of the virtues are the hallmarks of our ongoing Christian formation.  Yet, from time to time God throws a surprise into the mix.  He gives us something new to chew on from our faith perspective.  Maybe it’s an unexpected blessing like a job promotion, a windfall of wealth, a cure for a chronic health condition or a reconciliation of a longstanding hurt or misunderstanding.  On the contrary, maybe the surprise is bad news--the loss of a job, a life-threatening diagnosis, a break in a life-long friendship or the end of a marriage.  We can’t predict what lies ahead for us in life, and when it comes our way, we have to be ready and willing to incorporate the event into our faith.  That might call for some adjustments in the way we see God and in the way we see ourselves.

With God, we may welcome the positive things as signs of His goodness to us, the good people.  But when it comes to the hardships, then we ask, “Why me?”  We don’t deserve such affronts to our happiness.  After all, we go to church and live correctly.  Where is our reward?  With ourselves, we may begin to doubt our goodness and the significance of our lives.  What did I do to deserve this hardship?  I don’t know if I can handle this condition.  What can I do to make it better or even get rid of the burden?

The death and resurrection came as a surprise to the first disciples.  While Jesus tried to tell them that things would fall apart in Jerusalem, they didn’t want to hear it.  While He gave them clues to the new life that would be won by His suffering and death, they couldn’t conceive of what He meant.  Good Friday to Easter Sunday was a roller coaster ride for the disciples.  Dashed to the lowest point they had known in their discipleship and raised to the splendor of an unimaginable victory over sin and death, they had to be disoriented and confused by the events they witnessed.  Nothing was routine here.  The worst and the best had happened within three days.  Now what do they do?

They had to change their ideas about God and themselves.  They had to see life’s pain, suffering and loss not as God’s punishment but as the dark side of God’s abiding presence, supporting and sustaining them.  They had to see themselves not as the victims of life, but as partners with God in overcoming the powers of darkness.  They had to change their way of living the faith.  No longer could they be simply observant believers.  They had to become apostles of the new way, the Way Who is Jesus become the Christ to save us.  They received the very Spirit of God through the transformation of Easter.  Now, they had to learn to live by that Spirit, so that they could share it in all they said and did.

Baxter surprises me from time to time.  We all surprise each other occasionally.  But God’s surprise at Easter is the greatest of all.  Don’t miss it or reject it.  Embrace it, and it will eventually change your life.