Wednesday, May 25, 2016

For the Love of Baxter

I do all sorts of things for Baxter. Besides the basics of food, water, shelter, I also make sure his favorite places to sleep are clean and in order. I brush him daily. I greet him when I come home. I wait for him to drink from the spigot in the tub when he cries for it, and after his drink, I dry his wet head with a towel. I talk to him about the creatures in the yard outside the window. When I am away, I worry that he might be lonely. Regularly, I tell him he’s a good cat and my buddy. In all these ways, Baxter comes to know that he is loved and has a place in my life.

It’s easy to send this message to a pet. They ask for simple things as favors. They don’t take advantage of our kindness to deceive or manipulate us. They show affection without any strings attached, without expecting a future favor from the relationship. Pets are quite straightforward in their dealings with us and their expectations from us.

Maybe that’s why their affection seems so unconditional. It is clear, focused and unambiguous. They tell us what they like, and we try to provide it. In turn, we get a lot of satisfaction from this way of dealing with each other. No games, no guessing, no doubts, no intrigue, just simple, direct and genuine ways of connecting and caring for each other. No wonder we value them so much, and miss them when they are gone.

God calls us to deal with each other this way, but on a more profound level, the level of faith. Our adult relationships are partnerships of equals. We are all God’s children, and as such, we share a bond with each other based upon a common identity and purpose. Our relationships then are supposed to reflect a respect and value for each other, an honesty and integrity in how we deal with each other, and a generosity in our sharing God’s gifts with each other. There is no place for prejudice, for deception or fraud, for greed, envy or jealousy. When such vices enter into our connections, they poison them with mistrust and distance. We can’t live in a communion of saints because our self-serving and self-protective attitudes prevent any genuine bonding with each other. This is a sinful condition, and we can’t be satisfied in living with it.

For the love of our pets, we spend money, inconvenience ourselves, and go out of our way for their comfort and pleasure. But for the love of each other, we often are begrudging and narrow minded. Unless another measures up to our expectations, we eliminate them from our world. Unless another benefits my aspirations and ambition, I have no time for them. Jesus says, “Unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 5:20).

Our love for each other must be rooted in God’s love for each and every one of us. Pets may be easier to love, but people hold the secret to God’s love in our world. Learn from our pets, but don’t give up on people.

-Monsignor Statnick

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


As a domestic cat, Baxter relies upon others for most things in his life. He counts on his meals being set out for him. He needs someone to set and clean his litter box. He “asks” for treats, for a drink from the spigot, for a door to be opened. For all of his independence in setting his own life style to do what he wants when, Baxter cannot do any of this daily routine without someone else helping him. If he were a feral cat, he would have to fend for himself, and that would put him in jeopardy. Feral cats don’t live very long on their own. Domestic cats can have a long and happy life because they rely upon others to help and protect them.

The same holds for us. Studies have shown that a major factor in human longevity is social connection and interaction. People whose lives are involved with each other, who help each other, who are available to each other in mutual assistance and support create a network that strengthens each person in it better than any solitary individual’s efforts to survive and thrive.

The burdens of life are easier to bear, the joys of life are multiplied, and the threats are lessened when they are shared. Going it alone is a recipe for impending disaster in the future.

Our faith works the same way. God calls us to pray, work, and share life together, and in this way to discover that He is with us in our midst. Although we might think that we can do it better by ourselves without the hassle of other’s differing opinions, different personalities, different priorities, different ways, we soon find out that we aren’t good company for ourselves. We need the differences to discover new possibilities for a better way or idea. We need the differences to help us see God on God’s terms and not our own. We need the differences to learn that what binds us is deeper than our individual traits, talents or interests. It is a communion of life rooted in the mystery of the holy. Our differences serve to show us the richness of God who uses them to domesticate our wild egos to accept His freely given love.

The lonesome cowboy is an icon of Americana, but it can deceive us into believing that that is a model for happiness. A different picture is drawn by our scriptures. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)We rely upon each other to be whom we are called to be. In this way God tames us, not just to live a long life but an eternal one together with Him.

Baxter knows that he has a good thing going living with me. We need to learn how to have a better thing going living together and with God.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Give and Take

Baxter begs for food. When I am eating and he picks up an appetizing smell, he will sit at the foot of my chair with longing eyes. If I don’t respond and the aroma is just irresistible for him, he will place his front paws on my leg and reach for my arm, trying to pull it away with a morsel attached to the fork. If I get up from the table, Baxter will be on my chair in a mini-second, cautiously eying the food on the table and hoping I am gone long enough for him to make a move. That’s when he gets my stern, “Don’t!” and he usually backs off. Baxter will do whatever he needs to do to get a share from my meal.

However, the opposite is not the case. Baxter never shares his goodies with me. He never even offers a sample. Although I find his kibble unappetizing, I would think he would at least offer a bite to be polite. No, when his feeder moves for a meal, he is there dominating the dish, leaving no room for anyone else. Baxter knows how to get what he wants, but he isn’t great with giving what he has. Then, after all, he is a cat.

How are we as human beings? Do we think of sharing what we have, or do we only think of preserving it for ourselves or even better, getting more? We need to lookat our generosity quotient. Jesus says, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” If we always think we have less than the other guy or need more of what we do have, we will live like an animal. What marks our human nature is the ability to recognize the other as someone who has a claim on us because we share a common humanity. What marks our Christian character is the ability to recognize the other as made in God’s image and therefore, a brother or sister in the Lord.

We are made to share. We are baptized to share even more deeply. And if we think that we owe no one anything because we worked hard for all that we got, we better think again. No one is self-made. We have all relied upon others for opportunities, for help, for support and a second chance. That’s what makes us more than animals. And when it comes to our view of each other in faith, we are bondedin grace to need each other “to know, love and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” No one can get to heaven alone. We come there through the prayers, ministries and witness of those who went before us and those who remain behind. There is a communion of saints. In communion is the only way we can be saints.

Baxter, it’s give and take, not just take what you can get. Well, o.k. You are a cat.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Kinder and Gentler

I was away for a week recently. When I got home, Baxter was so happy to see me he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. He followed me wherever I went, and he would either meow for attention or just lie down and stare. I think he missed me, and he wasn’t about to let me forget it. He craved my attention, and he wanted to be cuddled, scratched and petted to assure him I was close again.

When Baxter was younger and I would leave for a while, he had a different attitude about my return. At first, he would greet me and want to be close, but after those formalities, he would give me the cold shoulder for a few days, sitting with his back to me, staying out of reach for a pat or scratch, and even trying to bite me when I wasn’t looking. He was angry, and he wasn’t going to let me off the hook for abandoning him. He wouldn’t forget the loneliness of my absence.

What has caused the change in Baxter’s attitude and behavior? Age. As he has become a senior cat, Baxter has mellowed about the things that used to upset him. He more often goes along with my antics rather than resist them. He looks to what he has set before him now, rather than what he missed or lost. He is grateful for a good life.

We need to learn this feline wisdom for our own lives. As the years pass, we can get stuck by focusing on the wrong things. We think of our regrets and mishaps--what opportunities we missed, what we did wrong, how others mistreated us—and we get trapped in this negative spiral. We can so concentrate on what we have lost—health, a work position, loved ones—that we can’t see what we still have--the good we have done, others who have helped us and contributed to our success and well-being, faithful friends and family. We fail to see the blessings we have, and so we wallow in anger over what we lost or never had. How do we learn to be grateful for what remains and how it has increased in value over the years?

The Eucharist is about gratitude for the blessings we bear in life. We are encouraged by the Church to participate regularly. This isn’t just a rule to keep the collection basket full. It’s a habit that is meant to foster our mature gratitude over time and deepen it, finding its roots in the relationshipsthat shape our lives rather than the things we have earned and possess. Our relationship with God permeates all our other relationships, and it is the source for our gratitude. As it unfolds in the mystery of death and resurrection Jesus revealed to us, we recreate our personal stories to see in them the saving love of God at work for us. The negative experiences are mellowed by grace to teach us how to release our anger and grow our sense of goodness because God loves us always in every condition. These lessons come with age. May we embrace the wisdom that our lives hold. Like Baxter, may we all grow old gracefully.
-Monsignor Statnick