Parables come packaged in different ways. Mine often come in the form of cats and dogs! Allow me to share some leftover stories from the holidays.
It was New Year’s night, and I wanted to take a final look at Christmas lights. I wasn’t able to find companionship, so, on a lark, I called my animal rights friend, Liz. She was free and drove over to the rectory. First, we went to Hampden to see the “miracle on 34th Street” – the amazing display of lights and animated figures. After walking up and down the block, we continued to walk around Hampden to see other lights.
As we walked down Chestnut Avenue, a stray cat came walking down the sidewalk! It was a cold night, with temperatures in the 20s. So I did the only sensible thing. I sat down on the cold ground, and the kitty jumped into my lap and started purring one of the loudest purrs I had ever heard. Liz commented: “Father Joe, you have the right energy. Stray cats don’t typically sit on strangers’ laps.”
I was reminded of a Garfield cartoon, in which Jon is holding Garfield on his lap. Jon is saying: “Garfield, two words describe our relationship. Loyal friendship.” Meanwhile, Garfield is saying: “Body heat!” So I suspected that it was body heat that night, not necessarily love.
The cat had no collar and seemed fairly unkempt. A few people were walking their dogs in the same area. We asked them about the cat. Both acknowledged having seen the cat before but knew little else. Fortunately, Liz got their phone numbers and asked if they could find out anything about the cat. In the meantime, we decided to rescue the cat, by taking it to Liz’s house.
I had never seen Liz’s townhome before. Suffice it to say that it is a house that love built. Liz had at least 10 cats she had rescued, plus a pit bull! There was also another big dog named Charlie that Liz kept locked on the back porch. Apparently, Charlie had consumed previous visitors, and I was being protected. (I’m only kidding, of course. But Charlie did need time to adapt to new visitors, and since I would only be there about 10 minutes, it made sense to keep Charlie outside.)
A very touching moment occurred while I was there. One of the tiny kitties went over to take a drink from the water bowl. Immediately, the pit bull followed and got a drink as well. As the pit bull was drinking, the little kitty began to lick the pit bull’s face. It was indeed a peaceable kingdom! Dogs are mostly mean if people mistreat them and make them mean. Dogs are lovable when they are loved. As Charlie Eckman would say, “It’s a very simple game!”
The next day I called Liz and asked what she had found out about the cat we had rescued. The people we had met on the street that night had asked around, and apparently our cat was the neighborhood cat. He even had a name – Joe-Joe! No wonder he was attracted to Father Joe! One of the neighbors had put a box on her porch, with food and water and a blanket.
From the stories we gathered, apparently Joe-Joe just wandered up and down the block greeting people. Apparently he would even wander into the local church and visit the people there.
So we took the cat back to the porch that had a box for him. We left some food and left him behind.
The whole incident reminded me of a story told by Father Anthony de Mello, S.J. A man on a train saw another man running next to the train, and he reached out and dragged the man onto the train. The first man said to the man: “It’s a good thing I was here. You would never have gotten on the train without my help!” The second man replied: “Yes, that’s true, but I was trying to get off the train! I was doing fine until you helped me!”
Probably the cat said: “Ditto”!