Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Baxter has a keen ability to help me relax. He crawls on my lap, or he just rolls over for me to pet him, and he begins to purr. Something about that sound and the funny vibration that accompanies it creates a peace and calm that is hard to resist. It is like a psychic massage, a soothing sound and touch that makes me forget the problems or concerns I might be carrying. It says: “Forget about the rest of the world for a moment. Concentrate on our time together. Listen to my peaceful sound and find your center through me. I won’t add to your burdens, but I will help you release them for now.” Add to this message a nose and head rub, and soon the world is all right again. The calm brings clear thinking and settled feelings. I am ready to start over.

Maybe episodes like this are part of the reason so many people prefer their pets to fellow humans. Pets help us decompress by giving us time just to settle down and forget about our troubles. They seem to sense when we need a time out, and they provide the opportunity to take one. At these moments, they don’t ask for anything for themselves except to be close to us. Their closeness gives us perspective on whatever is occupying our attention. It eases our anxiety and provides spaces for us to think again and differently about our issues. A purring cat invites us to pay attention and settle down.

God calls us to the same attitude and frame of mind. In prayer, He comes close to us and invites us to release our burdens, to forget about our troubles for a while, to feel the warmth of His love next to us. Prayer is not a time to solve our problems, but to drop them for a moment. Prayer helps us to recognize that before we have issues with which to deal, we first have appreciation to offer for the gifts what life contains. These come without any strings attached, simply because we are God’s children sharing His life in our living. We hold them in the packaging of our relationships, and we must package them carefully if we are not to damage our sense of gratitude for life.

So our prayer is meant to spill over into the way we deal with each other. Too often we are just problems for each other or functionaries who provide each other things that we need. Prayer shows us we are companions on life’s journey. We are meant to help each other over the rough spots, strengthen each other when we are weak, comfort each other when we are hurting. We do this not by solving anything but by paying attention, feeling close and allowing others to relax in our presence. This is the way we humans purr.

However, we get so wrapped up in our issues, in getting things done, in making demands on each other that we forget to pray that we learn to purr for each other. It’s the greatest service we can offer.

-Monsignor Statnick

Pope Francis and a few other authors have agreed to give Baxter a break for the summer. So this is the last reflection he will inspire until the weather cools and the new school year begins. Baxter hopes his feline frolics and foibles are helpful to his readers, but he has his agent looking for a new ghost writer to convey his wisdom. Baxter feels his present scribe is entering his dotage and might need to be placed out to pasture for his twilight years. If anyone is interested in applying for the position, please call 724-CAT-FOOD, and ask for “More Kibble”. (Baxter will do anything to circumvent his diet.) Happy summer and see you in September!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


It is graduation season. Pre-school, kindergarten, eighth grade, high school, college and post-graduate programs are celebrating their successful students and wishing them well for the future. A graduation marks a milestone in someone’s life. One phase is finished with the end of the ceremony, and another begins. It is a time to collect our memories from the past few years, and to face our futures, hopefully with confidence. We consciously move on rather than dwindle to an end.

Baxter has never gone through a graduation ceremony. He makes his transitions in life without much thought. He has passed from kitten, to young cat, to senior feline without fanfare or ceremony. It is not that he hasn’t learned some things along the way. He has developed his habits, his likes and dislikes, and his tricks to get what he wants from the repetition of routine and the lessons of trial and error. He just doesn’t look back on these experiences that taught him his life lessons, and he doesn’t seem to anticipate the future and where it might lead. He is a creature of the moment, imprinted with the past but not reflective about it or how it might lead him into the future.

This is what makes us different. As human beings we are meant to reflect and ponder upon our lives. We are not made to live from moment to moment without thought to what we are doing and where it is taking us. Our lives compose a history where what happens holds a certain meaning. However, this meaning is not self-evident most of the time. We have to plumb the experience for its deeper dimension, for the relationships that connect the pieces, for the God who was present quietly but powerfully while we lived through it. We have to become people who reflectively look back on our lives not in nostalgia to relive the past, but in confidence that we will discover a divine providence that will lead us into the future.

Our lives are not just a series of passages from birth to death, marked by the accumulation of years. They are a series of transformations, marked by ever deepening changes in our perspective and the character we bear in the world. As we live on faithfully and thoughtfully, these transformations are marked by grace more than our own talent, power, sin or failure. We see more and more of God’s hand with us, and we become more and more reflections of God’s work and word in our world. Salvation history continues as we understand the history of our lives unfolding in the path of faith.

As disciples, we all have one last graduation to celebrate. The ceremony takes place in a church. It takes a whole lifetime to meet the requirements of its credentials. It is marked with sadness for the good times that are over, but also with hope for the better times that lie ahead. The processional includes our loved ones, as we are led to the light of Christ at the foot of our casket. Marked by the blood of the Lamb from the moment of our baptism, we now join the great company of saints in glory, and we see the point of it all.

Baxter, you don’t know what you are missing. Happy Graduation!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Turf Wars

Baxter loves to look outside at the other critters with whom he shares this world. He is fascinated by birds and rabbits. He follows their movements with charged attention. He sees bugs as toys. He loves to reach for them and try to grab them in his paw. Then he may release them and bat them around. If they don’t get away, they usually get eaten. Baxter is not a vegetarian.

However, there is one of God’s creatures whom Baxter refuses to engage in any way except angrily. Another cat! Baxter will not abide a fellow feline on or near his turf. At best, he will have a stare down contest with the invader until they back away and leave the premises. At worst, he gets into a hissing, clawing, spitting fit, all intended to get the visitor to scoot in as quick and cowardly a fashion as possible. Baxter will have no one of his species sharing his territory. He claims sole proprietorship, and any other cat is not just unwelcomed, but thrown out in no uncertain terms. Baxter is very possessive of his sphere of influence.

Sometimes we are as well. We won’t let anyone else in or near what we consider our area of responsibility and expertise. We see them as a threat to what we do and who we are. We have the knowledge and experience, and therefore, the right to call the shots and do the job. We have been around a long time, and we don’t need any advice or assistance, unless we ask for it specifically. We are the champions of the cause, and we have notched up the successes of the past. We know best. What’s wrong with doing it our way?

It’s not God’s way. God is not an autocrat dishing out directions and marking off boundaries that no one dares to counter or cross. Sure, He has rules to guide our lives, and do’s and don’ts to follow. But they are for our own good, so that we are fair and respectful towards each other and learn how to build a better world, not to make God look good. God looks at us and sees what we can be, and He sets a place for us to live and work with others to become the persons God intended. That means we have to share our space and cooperate with others to do God’s work.

Our personal successes are not what will account for our lives before God, but how others’ lives were made better for our service to them and with them. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christ is disguised in others when they cross over into our lives.

Baxter is excused for his possessiveness and territoriality. He can’t help himself. It is built into his instincts. We have no excuse. God made us to be open to His grace by serving one another, by sharing our time, talent and treasure with them, by allowing them to claim a space in our world. It’s not mine or yours but ours. It is not my way or your way but God’s way through us. When we learn these lessons, God’s work begins to become our own.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sleeping Soundly

At first, I wasn'’t sure of where they were coming from, these strange sounds in the night. They were a mix of moans and groans, whistles and snores, sighs and heavy breathing. I looked everywhere for their source. I listened near the window, thinking they were coming from the outside. They weren'’t. I explored the basement, walked through every room in the house. Nothing. I checked out the refrigerator, then the furnace, even the chiming clock. No luck from any of these. I began to think that one of two things was possible. Either I was becoming delusional, or zombies were for real. Not wanting to believe that I was nuts, I looked for blood droplets on my pillow. No evidence. What was going on? Who could be at the bottom of these strange sounds in the night? I should have known, but sometimes we miss the most obvious explanation. Baxter!

When Baxter is sound asleep, he isn’t quiet. He make all these weird noises; I suppose to add sound effects to his dreams. He is in such a deep sleep that he is unaware of his noise making but any other creature trying to sleep can’t miss it. He releases a cacophony of sounds from the twilight zone while he blissfully floats in la-la Land. I admire his deep slumber and the utter abandon it conveys. However, the sounds of his peaceful rest create restless discomfort for those of us who have to live with it. Baxter doesn'’t realize it, but his deep sleep keeps others awake, alerted to the sounds his peacefulness generates.

We may have a similar situation in our spiritual lives. We are too restless and distracted to go deeply into reflection on our lives and encounter the God who is revealing Himself to us. We may be so frightened by the sounds around us, that we can’t listen to the silence within us. The world is a noisy place, and we get caught up in its shouts and threats. We may be so disturbed by the sound that others make in their habits of living that we can’t rest in ourselves and listen for the Lord. We don’t want to miss something interesting, so we are always attuned to what someone has to say or what we may overhear. We become focused on the external world so completely that we never enter our own interiority to examine what I truly think, feel and believe about myself, others and my God. We ride life like a wave, and we never dive into its depths to see what is living under the surface. We become spiritually shallow.

Deep sleep gives us a metaphor for how we are to rest in the Lord and contemplate His goodness. It’s not about trying to get to sleep and dream. Rather, it is about allowing ourselves to relax in the presence of God as to be taken away by the encounter. We forget where we are, what time it is, what others are doing, and simply fall into the embracing arms of our loving God. We allow God to take the lead, while we rest, while we let go of whatever is disturbing us. We focus on the moment in prayer, and we give no regard either to what happened in the past or what may occur in the future. We are absorbed in the present where God is with us in peace.

Like Baxter, Christians should make strange sounds in our world today. Not snorts and sighs or whistles and moans because we are asleep, but shouts of peace, forgiveness, compassion, justice and respect because we rest in the Lord. We have nothing to fear from those sounds.