Tuesday, January 7, 2014

God's Second Christmas Gift to Me in 2013

I know that that 2013 is over, and we are now a few days into 2014. Epiphany, after all, marks the end of Christmas. However, Christmas this year is likely to stay with me for quite some time, yeah, maybe even forever. In addition to the Unsecret Santa gift that God gave to me this year, in a typically generous manner, He gave me a second Christmas gift--and he gave it to me at a special time--Christmas eve--and in a special place--our old mission church, which is my favorite church in all the world. Midnight Mass this year began at 10:30. (We cheat a little because there are lots of children and lots of elderly folks in this small comunity, so we end Midnight Mass at midnight, rather than beginning it at midnight, and we begin with a half hour of caroling, a tradition that seems to have fallen by the wayside.)
All of this is merely preliminary to share that while Christmas eve is always special in our community and church, Midnight Mass this Christmas eve was unexpectedly even more special. It was special because of the unexpected expected. Expected was a full house; we had it. Expected was a feeling of sharing Chistmas eve with centuries of parishioners gathered into our old mission on Christmas eve after Christmas eve; that sense was there, as always. Expected, too, was the presence and participation of Sula, our parish cat (a feral cat who adopted the church and whom the church adopted). Not unexpectedly, Sula, who never misses a Mass (clearly Catholic, as you can see here by her walking over to join the communion line), was sleeping in the creche while carols were sung. She woke up when the retinue of priest, deacon, and altar servers stopped at the creche at the beginning of Mass to lay baby Jesus in the manger. Knowing her place, she yielded to the Greater Authority, stepped out of the creche, followed the procession to the altar, and then promptly lay down in one of "her" places.

For a brief moment, I was sitting in an empty pew near the back of the church. It quickly filled from the right, though, and then the small space to the left was taken by a stranger, someone, I learned, who had recently moved to town. He noticed Sula and, in surprise, whispered to me that there was a cat at the altar. Yep, we are used to that. This is her church, and there is even a cat door that she uses, which is left over from the really old days when cats were needed to chase rats out of the church.Not to worry, I told him. She is Catholic and a member of our parish. She also sits in pews and expects parishioners to move over and give her space; they do.

After the opening prayers, we all sat down for the first reading. Sula stood up and walked in a straight line under the pews from front to back, appearing near my feet. I reached down and picked her up. She knows me, and after all, I am a cat lady; all cats know that. She did not want to sit beside me, however, as she sometimes does. Instead, she crawled over me and into the lap of the stranger beside me. He did not reject her but sat quietly while she slid her head under his arm and went to sleep, sprawled across his lap.

"I think this is a sign that God has forgiven me," he whispered to me, with emotion causing a catch in his voice. He went on to explain, "I was an abused child, and I used to torment cats. I know it is not a justification. It was just my way of dealing with things. I have been so repentant for so many years, and I give money to the SPCA to help them counteract people like I was. Still, I have never been able to forgive myself or feel that God has forgiven me for what I did to those cats."

He stopped for a minute, then whispered almost in wonderment, "I have never told anyone this before."

Why did he tell me? I will never know for sure, but I think it was God's second Christmas gift to me this year, letting me share in a moment of His grace. (He spoils me that way.)

As for the stranger, a great peace exuded from him--and from Sula. She slept on his lap all through Mass. He did not go up for Communion, not wanting to disturb her. The rest of us in the pew scrambled past him, but Sula did not move, just breathed slowly in the satisfaction that accompanies deep sleep. She was still sleeping on his lap when Mass ended and everyone scattered to their various homes. I said good-bye. My last image as I walked out of the church was the stranger, stilling sitting in the pew, alone, except for a little white angel on his lap.


  1. What a beautiful story - God certainly gave you a front row seat.

    God Bless.

  2. Oh, Elizabeth...why can't I find a church with cats?? I love this story with a redemptive end. So glad I stopped by today :-)

  3. Hi Michael. It is amazing what two years will bring. This past Christmas Guideposts Magazine published the story of that cat-man encounter in an article called Cat with a Mission. Part of it is also available on line at https://www.guideposts.org/slideshow/sula-a-cat-with-a-divine-mission.

    I will write up a post on this because it is blooming into a marvelous project.