Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, May 22, 2009

“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)

“SOUL-SURFING” – May 31, 2009
Pentecost Sunday
John 20:19-23
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Begrudgingly dragging Jack the Cat to work with him several years ago, fellow hospital chaplain Josh whined that the feisty feline needed to go the vet, and since Erica, Josh’s wife and a school teacher, couldn’t transport her precious pet, it was left to Josh. Now it need be said from the start that Jack and Josh had never had an easy relationship. While Josh regularly bad-mouthed the animal, Jack reciprocated with painful scratches to Josh’s arms. But Erica, Josh’s spouse of just a few years, loved the cat. Indeed, there were two males in Erica’s life, and on any given day Josh was unsure which one she regarded more.

Closing Jack away in one of our departmental offices at the hospital, Josh gathered with us fellow chaplains to begin the day, letting drop the comment that the closeted beast ought to be left alone so angry was it at having to accompany Josh to work. I was not content, though, to take Josh at his word. I’d always liked animals, and I wanted to see for myself how unruly this one was. With no explanation, I excused myself from the gathering to introduce myself to Jack the Cat.

Slowly and quietly entering the room in which he’d been confined, I knelt on the floor and softly called out to him, “Jack, come out from wherever you’re hiding. I want to meet you.” Immediately a coal-black head with huge amber eyes peered out from behind a chair. “Come on over, Jack,” I begged. Hesitantly the cat left his refuge to approach. As I continued to speak soothingly, he came right up to me and allowed me to pat his head and scratch his back. Quickly sizing me up to be more friend than foe, Jack flopped over on his side, stretched his body out to twice its apparent length and purred loudly as I scratched the length of his belly. We continued in this manner for some seconds before Jack suddenly raised his head in alertness, amber eyes widening in expression. I followed the cat’s gaze to the window in the doorway. Josh was staring in open-mouthed disbelief at the two us.

What did it mean, both Josh and I wondered aloud? Why was Jack drawn to me but repelled from his rightful master? Josh scratched his head and laughed while I was just a bit embarrassed that the animal had so clearly chosen sides. And while Josh and I continue to this day to joke about the incident, a recent experience at my sister’s house was instant replay. This time, though, it was Louie the Cat.

Most late Saturday mornings after making rounds at the hospital, I pop in to have coffee with Lauri, my sister, and catch up on the week’s events. An avowed cat lover, Lauri has four of her own, and while I was at first a curiosity when they’d encounter me on Saturday mornings, the intrigue passed after a few months. These days I’m barely worth a sniff in the air or the flutter of a somnolent eyelid. At least it was so until a few months ago when Louie, the seemingly most unsociable of the felines, suddenly wanted to become my friend. A light-colored, long-haired cat with fur as soft as angora, Louie now spends every Saturday morning rubbing up against my legs until finally I put down my coffee cup and pay him undivided attention. It only takes the lightest pat on the head for Louie to flop over on his side, stretch out to twice his apparent length and purr loudly as I scratch his belly. I asked my sister about this new behavior, and she was as mystified as was Josh when Jack did the same thing. “I don’t know what’s going on,” said Lauri. Louie doesn’t like anybody. You’re the only one he’ll come to. Beats me what’s happening.”

There’s a price, though, for being loved by a cat. And especially high is this price if, like me, you are attired in black when the cat lavishes its affections on you. While it was not so obvious that coal-black Jack had left his mark on my black trousers, Louie was quite another story. Now, every Saturday morning before leaving Lauri’s house, I spend some minutes with a pet hair remover, rolling the sticky paper up and down my trousers hoping to snare the long pale hairs that Louie has deposited upon me as he continues weekly to cement our relationship. Indeed, there’s a price for being loved by a cat.

So is there a price for being loved by God. Something of the divine clings tenaciously to us when God approaches and touches us.

In the gospel passage we hear on this Pentecost day, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22) Indeed, though his physical body was to ascend to the Father, Jesus promised to remain always with his disciples, the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, to be their strength and consolation. And that promise was made not only to the first disciples but to every Christian down through the ages. Jesus is as truly with us as when he walked the earth in bodily form with his first followers. All this for love.

As the Book of Genesis recounts, God created us to live forever with him in a perfect world. There was no pain, no suffering, no want of any sort in the Garden of Eden. And even when, with the assistance of a serpent and an apple, we sinned, God did not leave us. Still he wanted to be with us. Jesus, God’s son, came among us as one just like us and re-taught us how to walk more closely with God, something we’d forgotten how to do. Then, once we could take our first baby steps, God breathed on us the Holy Spirit to be strength and consolation for all days to come so that, in the end, we might re-enter the perfect world God had in mind – heaven. All this for love.

There’s a price for being loved by a cat: clingy hairs difficult to remove from black clothing. So is there a price for being loved by God. Something of the divine clings tenaciously to us when God approaches and touches us.

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