Wednesday, September 28, 2016


When Baxter arises from a nap, the first thing he does is stretch. His is not a half-hearted exercise. When he stretches, he seems to engage every joint, muscle and ligament in his body. He stands, curls his back in a Halloween pose, then places his front paws far in front of him and pulls his body. Finally, he extends his back legs to pull his body from behind. Sometimes, as a last flourish, he will stand upright and separately shake each of his back legs before he scurries off looking for stray kibble. After witnessing an episode of this cat yoga, I do admire Baxter’s flexibility and the way his body seems to fall back into place after an extended period of restful slumber. Stretching gets him ready to take on the wakeful world again.

We need to stretch as well. We need it to get tone back in our muscles and help to avoid injury. But we need to stretch our spirits also. Too often our spiritual lives become compacted and limp. We follow comfortable routines we have done for years that lull us to sleep. We say prayers, but often miss the meaning of what we are saying. We go to Mass on Sundays, but come out of church not remembering what we said and did there. We drop a donation in the collection for some need, but don’t feel the pinch of sacrificial giving. We have heard each other speak, but we don’t listen to each other’s hearts behind the words. We go through life half-asleep and enjoying the comforts we use to keep us that way. We can become spiritually soft and weak, and not realize how we got this way.

We need to stretch. Sometimes life stretches us and invites us to cooperate in the exercise. We face challenges in raising children, in a job, in marital relationships and friendships. We can ignore them and pretend that everything is just as it always was, or we can try to reach out in new ways, to try new approaches, to go in directions we have never explored before. God unfolds Himself in ongoing ways if we go beyond our comfort zone. At other times, we ourselves can stretch our limits. Like an athlete, we can challenge ourselves to give a little more, do a little more, think a little deeper, pray in a new form that reaches into the silence of God’s mystery. These efforts help to condition us to expand and strengthen our spirits. We become more flexible to discover God’s presence in ways and circumstances we missed before. We can adapt to how God wants to be with us, rather than in how we want God to be for us. Grace begins to condition our spiritual lives, rather than our setting the conditions for God in our lives.

Baxter is quite smart to stretch before he gets moving again after a rest. It aligns his body and avoids injuries. Some stretching of our spirits would do all of us some good as well, aligning us more with God’s ways rather than our own, and making our hearts nimble to avoid silly hurts and take on genuine forgiveness.
-Monsignor Statnick

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Getting a Whiff of Things

Baxter’s nose is amazing. It leads him through life. When I am having lunch, Baxter is usually just waking from his morning siesta. I come in the door and go back to my bedroom to see him, and he looks up at me but doesn’t make any effort to move. He continues to lounge in place, easing himself into consciousness and activity. When I go into the kitchen to prepare something to eat, he still remains prone and seemingly apathetic. Nothing is going to force Baxter to disturb his comfort. Nothing, until he gets a whiff of something appetizing.

I don’t know how he does it. His sense of smell is so acute that it picks up the slightest hint of his favorite foods. I can understand how opening a packet of tuna might set Baxter stirring, but opening a package of graham crackers? He loves graham crackers, and as soon as I break open the package to get a treat to top off my lunch, Baxter comes running to my side for his share. From two rooms away, he picks up the scent, and this olfactory stimulation sets him begging for a morsel. (I may have to try eating in my car in the garage to have an undisturbed lunch.)

What are we prone to sniffing out? Often it’s not thekindest smells. Some of us are keen on gossip. We wake from our drowsy, boring ways of getting through the day when we get a whiff of something shady on someone. Somebody’s marriage is rocky. Someone’s kid is in trouble with the law. Someone is sick with a serious illness. Somebody lost a fortune on a business deal. Someone has a drug or alcohol problem. Whatever misfortune we smell about another, we can’t often resist the hunger it rouses for more.

A tidbit only whets our appetite. Having tasted a juicy piece of information about another, we want more, the full story, all the details. We aren’t satisfied until we think we have it all. What gives here?

Gossip allows us to avoid what really smells around us—our sin and weakness. When we get caught up in pursuing gossip, we stop looking at ourselves and reflecting on how we need to grow. Our attention is drawn to other’s faults and failures, so that we don’t have to be honest about our own and try doing something about them. We lose focus on our own lives, so that we begin to assume there is nothing wrong.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Luke 6: 41)

Baxter’s nose is programmed for “good” smells, things that nourish him and that he likes to consume. Our noses are often in the air for the opposite kind of scents that we hope to discover on each other. We need a way to freshen theair between us. Smell the roses in other’s lives, and the rot in our own. Admire the roses and get rid of our rot. In that way, the world will be a fresher place for all of us.

-Monsignor Statnick

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Shutting Out the World

Baxter loves to sleep curled in a ball. He walks around his bed for a few moments, plops down, settles into place, and then rolls his body so that his head and tail meet with his face nestled in his soft and warm stomach. In this pose, it is hard to figure out what exactly he is. He looks more like a furry pillow than a cat. When Baxter is set in this self-enclosed circle, he is dead to the world. Lights and sounds go unnoticed; I can come and go around him without any reaction. At times, Baxter is so removed from life in this disposition that I have to watch him carefully for a few seconds to make sure his diaphragm is moving. He’s not dead, but he is dead to the world.

Wouldn’t we all like to learn this cat trick? The times we are in sometimes seem so confusing, upsetting, threatening and contentious that we are at a loss for what to do. How do we fix the Middle East, the environment, economic inequality, racial divides, cultural divisions? How do we stop terrorism and nuclear armaments? Whom do we trust to lead us through these dilemmas? What do we teach our children about the right way to live in this world? Where is God in all this?

No wonder we would like to curl in a ball and escape it all, just sleep away until we can awaken to a new world with all the problems solved. But for us humans, and especially for us Catholic Christians, it doesn’t work that way.

This messy, unclear and uncertain world we live in is the place where we must work out our salvation. Trying to escape the picture doesn’t give us a better way. It simply gets us nowhere, living in a dream-land from which we must eventually awaken and face the situation we left when we fell asleep. Like Baxter when he awakens from his deep sleep, we need to lift our heads, stand and stretch, and get moving again. Our church offers some tried and true advice on how to do this.

Start with prayer. Pray for God’s presence and power to be felt as we tackle the dilemmas of 2016. Next, learn the Church’s teachings on the principles that guide our way towards the best solutions. The document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, and other explanations of Catholic social teachings are examples of these. Finally, have a conversation—not an argument--with others trying to be faithful disciples as they grapple with the issues of our day. Listen to their concerns; ask questions about why they hold the positions they do; think about the agreements and differences that surface between us and what they tell us about each other, our problems and God’s ways in our midst.

Baxter can afford to curl in a ball and sleep his life away in peace. We don’t have that luxury. We need to be about God’s work in the uncertain times and perplexing situations we face. As daunting as this task may be, we cannot abandon it, for we are His disciples and the instruments of His grace. So wake up and don’t be afraid. “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”