Thursday, September 26, 2013


I think I can honestly say that Baxter is a happy cat.  Of course, he can’t attest to this condition for himself.  At least, he can’t do so in a language we can all understand.  Nevertheless, I would draw this conclusion from Baxter’s life situation.  He lives under all the conditions needed to be happy.

First, Baxter is certainly well fed and sheltered.  His weight is evidence enough of the former, and his many comfy chairs, pillows and blankets around the house give clear evidence of his warm and plush environment.  Baxter’s life conditions are anything but “roughing it”.  They are more like the Taj Mahal of the catdom.

Next, Baxter is safe.  He is protected from physical threats because he never ventures forth into the unsecured world of streets, cars and other beasts.  To his chagrin, he visits the vet at least once a year for his vaccinations and check-up.  He is sheltered from most loud noises and unfamiliar sights and sounds, so his anxiety is held in check for the most part.  Baxter’s world is a safe one where he can sleep secure and thrive when awake.

Finally, Baxter has companionship and community.  Although he spends a lot of time alone, when I am home with him he gets large doses of attention, pampering and conversation.  I am vigilant in knowing where he is every minute we are together.  Sometimes he wants his own space away from me, which is fine, but I still want to know in what part of the house he has taken up his private meditation.  He gets brush strokes, scratches and pets from me at various times throughout the day, just to let him know I care.  Often, we have conversations, or at least, exchanged comments.  For instance, Baxter says, “Meooooooooooooow” (Translated, “I want to eat.”).  I respond, “It’s not time yet.”  Or Baxter cries out with a deep baritone groan like “Ouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!” (Translated, “Here comes a hairball.”)  I shout, “Not on the rug!”  Sometimes the conversations are sweet and affirming.  I say, “Baxter, you are the best.  I love you.”  He answers with “Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” from the bottom of his toes.  In all these ways, we pay attention to each other and make connections with each other throughout the day.

Isn’t this the picture of happiness:  to have our basic needs met, to feel safe and secure, to share life with mutual care and personal affection?  Think about it.  If we have these things with our home, family, friends and community, we have all the ingredients for a happy life.  But do we appreciate what we have, and work at enhancing these dimensions of our life together?  Sometimes we take these things for granted and spend our time and energy complaining about what we don’t have, things that won’t deepen and broaden our happiness—material luxuries, fame, status symbols or some personal preference.  We need to realize the precious gifts that food, clothing, shelter, safety and companionable communities are and be grateful for having them.  Then we have to help others who lack these fundamentals to happiness find them for themselves.  These are the basics of God’s blessings for us, and if we have them, we are rich in grace.  We dare not take them for granted, but we must share them to allow God’s blessing to grow among us.

Baxter, you’re a lucky cat, and I am a lucky cat servant.  God has blessed us all.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Catnip makes cats crazy.  Sometimes Baxter cries to have some.  When I put a pinch on his scratch pad, he sniffs it, claws it, rolls in it, and then eats it.  He becomes totally engrossed by its lure and the effects.  As he has gotten older, those effects have become more subtle.  As a kitten, he would drool when he got some catnip.  As a spry adult, he would caress the nip and stay with it for a long time.  As a mature fellow now, Baxter seems less dramatically affected by the herb, but he still craves it at times and soon becomes calm after eating it.  Catnip is Baxter’s drug for happiness, peace and contentment.  He becomes a different cat for a while when he has a sniff or taste.

What does this for us?  What do we use to escape the hassles of our ordinary day, the dilemmas of our life choices, or the conflicts with our friends and family.  We know that some people literally turn to drugs to ease the confusion and pain.  It often starts with pain killers left over from a recent surgery or illness.  Sometimes it comes with a casual offer from a peer, fellow worker or friend.  We are curious about what it is like.  We are looking for something to give us a little relief from life’s troubles and struggles.  We don’t know where to turn, so we take what comes our way.  In this drug infested world, that is all that it takes to start down a path that leads to threatening and destructive behavior for ourselves and others.

It’s easy and it’s everywhere.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Drug abuse is in our community, among our church members, within our families and in our neighborhoods.  Whether its alcohol abuse, prescription addictions, or illegal substances, whether we drink it, snort it, inject it or smoke it, we are vulnerable to liking the effects of many powerful, mind and mood altering substances that are all around us.  These effects deceive us.  In our pressure cooker world, they seem to bring peace and calm.  In our struggling to love and understand each other in our relationships, they seem to bring clarity and care.  In our search for meaning and happiness in living, they offer an easy answer to emptiness and aimlessness.  Like much of the evil we encounter in our world, drugs don’t lure us directly.  They disguise themselves as good things to help us.  Only when we are hooked, do the destructive effects of these devil dealers become evident, usually to those who stand by helplessly and watch, not knowing what to do.

But we disciples of Christ are not left helpless and hopeless.  Our faith gives us resources to use in the face of evil.  We pray, making ourselves aware of a power beyond ourselves that can bring true peace and happiness without abusing any substances.  We come together to allow each other to see that we are not alone in the face of evil.  Christ’s Spirit unites us to stand together for what is right, good and genuinely helpful for others.  We act in the name of the Lord Jesus.  We don’t expect to change an evil situation and the lives affected by it overnight.  But we must take steps in a positive direction.  We must show people that things can be different than they experience them right now.  We believe in the power of good to touch people and motivate them, and we don’t give up on anyone, no matter how many relapses or mistakes they have had.  We keep calling them to take responsibility for setting their lives on a positive course, and we will help them help themselves along the way.

Too bad the drug problem isn’t catnip.  We could just laugh at its effects and carry on as usual.  Our problem is a life and death matter for many that affects the safety and security of our whole community.  Don’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to those caught in the evil of substance abuse and addiction.  For what we do to the least, we do to Christ Himself.  Together we can find our way led by the Spirit to do what is needed to make a better place for us all.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Each evening I call Baxter to get his coat brushed.  He comes at once and purrs his way through my vigorous stokes up and down his body.  I follow this routine to minimize the number of hairballs he and I must endure.  Getting all the loosened hair away from him and collected in a wire brush so that it can be disposed of benefits both of us.  Baxter doesn’t have to undergo the convulsive hacking of spitting up non-digestable hair, and I don’t have to clean up after the episode.  It’s a win-win for the two of us.

We all need to get rid of useless and annoying stuff that clings to what we wear to protect us and keep us warm:  ideas and attitudes that hold us back from accepting new challenges in our lives;  biases and prejudices which prevent us from giving others a chance to help and succeed;  fears and apathy that prevent us from making a better life for ourselves and others.  These are just some of the loose hairs that we carry around with us each day.  They get on everything we do and say, and when we take them inside ourselves, they become obstacles to nourishing our spirits on God’s grace.  They clog our minds and hearts from thinking clearly and openly, from feeling free to respect and love others.  They entangle our other thoughts, feelings and actions, so that we lose the good we could do because of the deep-seated junk we have consumed in grooming ourselves.

But there is help.  God has provided a brushing of sorts to get rid of these loose hairs that can gag us.  It’s called the Sacrament of Penance.  This sacrament is meant to change our minds and hearts by calling us to a deep conversion in living the vision of the Gospel we profess.  Too often we approach this sacrament on the surface, and just run through the routine list of our sinning.  But the sacrament calls for something more vigorous than a list of typical piccadillos.

The loose hairs we carry with us are hidden in the coats we wear.  They have to be vigorously brushed out, if we are to begin to free ourselves of their effects.  We brush our souls not by becoming scrupulous about every little detail of our lives.  Oftentimes, this is a way to distract ourselves from the loose ends we carry with us.  We gather these only by going deeper and broader in our examination of conscience.  We need to ask ourselves the wired questions:  What keeps me from doing what my heart is telling me is right?  Whom or what do I avoid dealing with and why?  What are my common excuses for doing things differently?  What am I passionate about, and is my commitment directed to the right things?

These are the kind of prickly questions that will get rid of the entanglements that clog up our lives from receiving the love and care God offers to us.  The Sacrament of Penance raises such questions for us if we use it well.  It can free us from the useless strands of selfishness hidden in the usual appearance we present.

Baxter comes running when I call him to be brushed.  God is calling us to free our souls from loose thoughts, words and actions which prevent us from absorbing the rich graces He offers for nourishment.  Come when He calls.  Don’t run away!