Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Waiting for the Reunion

I keep my car in the garage attached to the house where I live. So whenever I leave or return in my car, I have to open and close the garage door. This has become a cue for Baxter. I don’t know what he does when I leave, since I am on my way and out of earshot of his voice. But whenever I return, Baxter’s routine is unchanging. Once I hit the button to close the garage door, he starts crying for me to come home. I hear him through the door that connects the garage to the kitchen, and if I tarry in the garage for some reason, his greeting becomes louder and more persistent. He sits inside the kitchen door waiting for my return, and protesting about why it is taking so long. Once I’m inside, he rolls over on his back and wants a stomach scratch. Then all is right with the world again. I am where I belong, and Baxter is assured that he isn’t alone any longer.

Our pets want us with them. They miss us when we are gone, and they welcome us when we return. They don’t care if we come home dirty and sweaty from hard work, tired and cranky from a disturbing day, or happy and excited with good news. They want us with them however our disposition may be. It’s that unconditional acceptance that so attaches us to them. If others won’t talk to us, don’t care about our day, lay another agenda on us when we get home, our pets are just happy to see us, to have us with them to complete the family. When we aren’t there, they feel that something is missing for them, and they yearn for our return.

God regards us in the same way. God misses us when we aren’t at home with Him. He sees us as part of His family, and the group is incomplete when one of His children is missing. He doesn’t care what we bring when we come home, pleasant surprises or difficult problems, a cheery smile or a down-in-thedumps frown. He wants us home, however we present ourselves. Our presence, our companionship is important to our God, and He will go out of His way to lure us back to Him. This message fills the gospels.

The story of the Prodigal Son is probably the best illustration of God’s longing for us. But there are so many other examples of His unconditional love and acceptance. Leprosy doesn’t keep Jesus away, nor does any kind of sin. He holds conversations with a Roman centurion, a Samaritan woman and a demoniac without disdain for these unacceptable sorts. He feeds the hungry. He doesn’t send them away. He answers questions from the rich and the poor, from the learned and the ignorant. When He is dying on the cross, He has conversations with His mother, the beloved disciple, and criminals alike, never failing to comfort and reassure them. He shares dinner with the distinguished and the lowly, and He is comfortable with whatever they bring to the table, challenging questions or tears of remorse and contrition. Jesus is the face of God in these scenarios, and what we see is a God more comfortable in our skin than we are at times, embracing our humanity, whatever its condition, with His grace.

This Lent, let us not be afraid to come home to God, no matter where we have been or how long we have been away. He misses us. He is sitting at the door of our hearts crying for us to open them. Don’t keep Him waiting any longer.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Keeping Warm

Winter is a tough season on living creatures. Baxter is no exception. He craves heat during these cold, dark and windy days. He often lies against the heat vent to get the full effect of the furnace. Once down, he curls into a ball to expose as little of his body surface as possible. Sometimes, for a diversion, Baxter thinks he wants to go for a walk in the garage, but as soon as I open the door, he realizes how cold it is out there and does a 180° turn to retrieve the warm, cozy temperatures. Baxter doesn’t like the cold, and luckily, with his pampered life style, he doesn’t have to go out in it.

We aren’t that lucky though. We have to confront the cold, and not just the low temperatures on the thermometer. We face a world where people are cold to each other. We look upon our fellow human beings as problems, competitors or even enemies, and once we label another this way, we find it hard to offer respect, care, compassion, forgiveness and community—all those things which can potentially warm our relations with each other. We need an ice breaker to come between us, to clear the way to take a second look and see our common bonds with each other.

Our faith is this vessel to break through the frozen straits of partisanship. We believe that God made us in His image as His children, so we are brothers and sisters in the Lord and fellow disciples on life’s journey. These categories should create warm waters around us where we can live and work together, where we help each other, and where no one is abandoned in their suffering. Therefore, we begin with this vision before us to face the cold facts of our harsh world and solve the problems they create.

The refugee is a neighbor. The drug addict is a wounded brother or sister. The poor have a place at our table. The unborn and the elderly are precious members of the human family. How we include these and other vulnerable persons in our world can be challenging dilemmas, but we must first view them as persons, not problems, as companions on mother earth not competitors for limited resources; as people who want respect for their traditions, safety for their homelands and a good life for their children not enemies on battlefield earth.

The cold can make us want to crawl into a ball, hide inside and attack anyone who threatens our warm space. Cats deal with it that way. God’s children deal differently. Whatever the temperature is outside, may the gift of grace warm our hearts to see each other as God sees us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Happy Birthday, Baxter

Baxter is having a birthday this weekend. He is sweet sixteen! While that is a young and fresh age for us, humans, for cats, sixteen places him in the senior ranks. Baxter does show his age, and mainly in two ways. He has slowed down. While he can still run to fetch a piece of kibble or when he goes into one of his “crazy” jamming sessions from room to room, most of the time, Baxter saunters to where he wants to be. He has come to realize that for most things in life, there is no need to hurry. Age has a way of putting him at ease while it reduces his pace.

Baxter’s age has also made him more affectionate. When he was a young, cool cat, Baxter warmed up to people on his terms. If I had something he wanted, he was all purrs and cuddles, but if the time or mood didn’t suit him, he was aloof and untouchable, shunning any attempts at petting or holding him. Now though, it’s a different story. Baxter seeks my company at various times throughout the day, and he purrs whenever I touch, pet or scratch him. He crawls on my lap several times a day, and he waits at the door when I come home, even if he has already been fed. In his senior years, Baxter has become a softy.

These changes In Baxter’s attitude can apply to us as well. We need to learn how to slow down. Sometimes we can get caught up in all that needs done that we don’t recognize how supercharged we are. We go from activity to activity, scheduled event to scheduled event without thinking about what we are doing, and at the end of the day, we wonder why we are exhausted. Life becomes a series of jobs we check off when completed, and we begin to wonder where this hectic treadmill is taking us. When we slow it down, we still have as much time in the day, but now it is filled with savoring a few things and appreciating what they reveal about the meaning and purpose of our lives. A treadmill gets us nowhere, but a walk in the park alone or with your spouse can show you how God is our companion each day.

Also, we can learn to accept genuine affection when it comes our way, and to offer it whenever we can. As the maturity that can come with age allows us to be less and less self absorbed, we need to appreciate what others have given us and value their companionship. Those who stood by us when times were tough, those who counseled us without demanding our agreement, those who put up with our anger, moodiness and stone silence without returning it in kind, those who wanted only the best for us and didn’t see us as rivals, all these deserve to know we hold them dearly and are shaped by their love. Here the Lord Jesus showed His face through the faces of those who were His disciples in our lives.

Cool cats are young, rambunctious and full of themselves. Mature cats are confident but humble, and warm towards others. Despite what we lose through the passing of the years, we gain so much more that really matters. Let us take time this Lent to cut our losses and consolidate our gains, to be less harried and more at peace, to abandon our cool veneer and show our true affections. Then we may know that although we are getting older, God is making us better with age. Happy Birthday, Baxter.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Welcome Home

Whenever I leave for an extended time, Baxter misses me. He won’t admit it directly, but I can tell by the way he greets me when I return. After a few “meowful” salutations, he lies down and rolls over on his back. He wants his belly scratched. I have to be gentle and slow in my strokes. Cats’ bellies are very sensitive, and they usually protect them from any alien touches. But through the years, Baxter has come to trust me, and now he offers his soft underbelly whenever he wants to reconnect with me after a time away. It’s his way of saying that I am a special part of his life, and he misses me when I am not there.

God sends us the same message in the same way during the Lenten season. He misses us, and He draws us close by touching our sensitive side. During Lent, we are asked to expose those places where God has made Himself vulnerable to our human condition. He forgives our sins, so we confess them to know His mercy. He heals our brokenness , so we pray for consolation and peace in grief, loss or rejection. He feeds our hungers, so we seek help in physical or spiritual need. God enters into our sin, brokenness and desires with the transforming power of His grace. This grace allows us to accept His forgiveness, healing and help without embarrassment. In these ways, our weak underbellies are touched by the careful, gentle hand of God’s mercy, and we are reconnected to the source of our life and its meaning.

Lent is not meant to be hard to make us tough. It is meant to soften us so that holiness can penetrate our lives. It is a time to go deeper into our faith--deeper into our understanding of God’s ways, deeper into our intimacy with God’s love, deeper into how we are connected to each other as God’s children. Going deeper increases our sensitivity to the holy in our midst, to its sometimes wounded face and shy ego. Like the crucified one, holiness can seem defeated by our harsh world. But as we move deeper into Lent, we find that the servant may appear weak, but, in truth, is strong and vital.

To become truly vulnerable for others in their service is to become powerful in grace. As Peter preaches in the Acts of the Apostles, “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made Him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

So maybe we need to turn ourselves over and allow God to touch the sensitive spots of our lives, the places we have been hiding or been afraid to admit are part of us. Lent is a time of conversion. We are changed by inviting God’s gentle mercy where we need it most. That becomes a homecoming for both us and the God who lives in and with us.

-Monsignor Statnick