All creatures great and small
By Beth Doherty25 Sep 2015
Full disclosure here: I rather like cats. The site of a little mangy abandoned kitten can reduce me to sobs. Pope Benedict XVI apparently liked them too, and according to one source confided to the Father General of the Jesuits that the cats hanging around St Peter’s Square were ‘the audience that listened to him.’
Pope Francis, while there is some confusion about what he meant, is said to have comforted a child, and told him his dog would go to heaven. ‘One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures,’ said the Holy Father, according to Italian news sources.
We all have different things that show us the face of God, and in the Ignatian tradition, we seek God in all things.
It occurred to me recently that having a cat is teaching me a lot about compassion, love and reverence for creation.
In 2009, in an attempt at adulting, I made the decision to get a rescue cat. I am pretty scrupulous, and worry about my decisions, so it was an anxiety-producing step.
Ezekiel, an eight-month-old kitten was abandoned to a shelter and two days from being euthanised in a Western Sydney pound. She had been so abused it seems that she could barely muster up a meow, and it simple came out as a croaky, high pitched squeak as she cowered away from me as I tried to pick her up.
She came home with me the next day, and I panicked for the little life that whimpered in the car seat all the way home. She hid for days, emerging only to eat and respond to the call of nature, but six years later, the little character is thriving.
Pope Francis talks about shepherds having the smell of the sheep. I had a beautiful moment in prayer some years ago as I imagined myself as the lost sheep, a mangy little thing bounding towards Jesus and being tenderly lifted up to his cheek. It was a helpful moment for me, and the words of Pope Francis bring me back to that image.
Although, let’s be honest, as a city slicker, instead of having the smell of sheep, perhaps occasionally I have the smell of cat.
In this single vocation that I find myself temporarily living, finding ways to love is on my mind. My friends and family have children and partners, and so while I have the gift of time to dedicate to hobbies and work, I am aware that in the end I will not be judged by what I did or how much money I had, but how I loved. If my cat is any measure of received love, perhaps I’ve loved a little too abundantly. She certainly is no longer scrawny or mangy.
My broken, flawed attempts at love throughout my life have allowed me a small panorama of what heaven could be like. And even if some days, the only act of love is a tickle on the head or the trickle of cat biscuits into a bowl, they could be glimpses of the love that God wants to lavish on us.
In 2014 I lived a year in South America and in the country where I lived, the same reverence isn’t shown for animals. I (shamefully) screamed in Spanish at a man in a poor barrio as I witnessed him mercilessly beating a horse that was dragging a cart with a broken wheel. Yet such cruelty was a symptom of a society that doesn’t always care for its most vulnerable.
In October that year, I happened upon a tiny kitten curled up in the corner of the town plaza. Not more than a week old, she had been left there. I named her Iggy after St Ignatius and carried her home, where my host mother welcomed her to the menagerie of animals that included three dogs, a cat, a parrot, ducks and chickens.
Her home became a cardboard box, and after a shout out on Facebook, her forever home was found with 17-year-old Rosa. Alas, she clung onto life for just five more days. On the last evening as I attempted to feed her through a tiny syringe, she cried out, hopelessly hungry, but seemingly too weak to suckle. As it happened we had empanadas for dinner, pastries filled with meat, and I marvelled at the fact that she was not much bigger than the food.
I found her limp and lifeless the next morning and as we buried her in the garden with a little rose tears trickled down my face. It’s true that newborn kittens often die, even when fed with their mothers’ milk, but I felt so responsible nonetheless.
Yet, my five days with Iggy and six years with Ezekiel often remind me of that Good Shepherd image, of lifting up and delighting in another.
The tenderness in myself brought about by these particular creatures showed me that not only did I have an image of God, but that it was one of mercy and compassion, rather than judgment. And that perhaps I can even forgive myself for my foibles and outright transgressions.
And it made me grateful to God.
Beth Doherty is the editor of PrayOnline and the author of the new book Tweet others as you would wish to be tweeted. The book can be ordered from www.worldcommunicationsday.org.au or on amazon.com