The National Catholic Review
What I Learned From My Cat About the God Who Created Us

My cat Goose died last autumn. I miss him. In his seven short years on earth, Goose reveled in the quotidian routine of the domestic feline. He ate, slept, purred, stretched, chased his twin brother Maverick around the house and slept some more. He basked in the sun, ran from the vacuum cleaner and loved nothing better than to jump into the lap of any convenient human and await the combination ear-scratch-with-belly-rub that he knew would be his if he just sat there and looked cute for a minute.

It was an altogether unremarkable existence (for a cat) and one that our God, in his infinite wisdom, apparently deemed a perfectly suited vehicle for communication with the bumbling human that through his grace Goose claimed as his own. St. Ignatius tells us that all things on the face of the earth are created for us, that they might help us on toward the end for which we are created. I know that was true of Goose.

Our Posture Before the Creator

One of the earliest and most basic lessons that Goose taught me (or that God taught me through Goose) was how to be a creature in the presence of the Creator. Goose was much better at this than I am. He was a cat, and he luxuriated in his cat-ness. He received: he soaked up the blessings that God bestowed on his cat-self, from sunny windows to a twin brother just the right size to curl up with to a human who got positively silly about him. And he gave: a few brisk licks to clean his brother’s ears, a warm presence at the foot of a cold bed. Often he gave by receiving, knowing instinctively that I needed to pet him and fuss over him as much as he needed to be petted and fussed over. I learned a lot about being from Goose; I learned also something about how God regards our being, delighting in the work of his hands and the extraordinary beauty of our ordinary lives.

Whose World Is It, Anyway?

Surprisingly, Goose also taught me a lesson about our relationships with one another and how they can stand in the way of our relationship with God. One Saturday morning about six months ago, I went to the pet food store, planning to buy 24 cans of Iams catfish formula and an eight-pound bag of ocean fish and rice. A year-old black cat who had been found by the roadside without his mother stared out at me from a cage beside the cash register, a note from the Piedmont Feline Rescue League advising that Adrian needed a home. A week later, I adopted the little guy.

The night Adrian came home, I took my usual seat at one end of my tattered couch, the end that faced the crucifix and had become my prayer chair. One of the great consolations of my prayer times, even on days when I had trouble feeling God’s presence, was having Goose sit on my lap and Maverick take a position near my head on the back of the couch. Naïvely, perhaps, I was looking forward to the company of three felines that night. (Adrian’s place, I figured, would be by my feet.) I waited.

Goose didn’t come. Neither did Maverick. And neither did Adrian. Goose took up a perch on top of the refrigerator, growling at Adrian lest he dare set foot in his kitchen. Maverick stood sentry in the bedroom, prepared to greet any would-be intruder with an uncharacteristic hiss. Adrian lay low under the television set, waiting for his new brothers to come to their senses. I sat alone on the couch, and as I did, God gave me a glimpse of what he must feel like when we, his beloved creatures, erect barriers among ourselves, distancing ourselves from him in the process. As I prayed, I was struck by the irony of it all. Goose and Maverick were growling at Adrian because they were protecting their territory. Come on, guys, I thought, this apartment is mine! There is plenty of room for each of you. Now, come here and let me pet all three of you, and let’s put an end to this foolishness immediately.

Exactly, I heard God say.

Trust Me

A short time later, the three cats had come to coexist far more peacefully than we five billion humans have managed to do, and in late August we prepared to move to a new house. I was getting married (to a wonderful man who has also taught me something about God and his love for us), and two humans and four felinesKeith’s a cat lover, toowould need more space. At the end of a chaotic day, after the movers had come and gone, we put the cats in their carriers and delivered them to their new home. Adrian scampered out and began exploring his new surroundings with enthusiasm. Goose and Maverick, inseparable since birth, huddled together in the back of their carrier, the open door doing nothing to inspire their sense of adventure.

Gently, Keith and I tried to coax them out. We told them what a great house it was, with stairs for running and lots of windows for sunning and bird-watching. We put food at the door to the carrier, hoping hunger might budge them if our entreaties didn’t. To each other, we bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t convince two fearful little creatures that their new home was bigger and, heck, just objectively better than the one they’d left behind. We weren’t angry with them, of course; we just felt sorry that they weren’t yet ready to experience the wonderful new things life had in store for them.

Once again I heard the gentle voice of God. This resembles the way I feel when you’re not ready to take the next step in my plan for you, he said tenderly. I don’t get angry at your limitations or impatient with your fear, I just love you even more and will you to see what I see. Then he added, when you’re ready to take that step, I will rejoice with you!

Keith and I did just thatwhen Goose and Maverick finally emerged from the carrier about 12 hours later. After a few days, they were jumping onto windowsills and gingerly descending the basement stairs. We were delighted for them.

A Gift From God

Goose died unexpectedly on Oct. 29, after a brief illness that Keith and I had thought was the flu. The vet concluded that he succumbed to a congenital heart defect not uncommon in young male cats. We will mourn his loss for a long time, even as we note with delight the brotherly bonding that Maverick and Adrian seem to be experiencing these days.

Goose was a creature of God, and he taught me so much about the God who created him, and us. Sometimes, when Goose was looking particularly peaceful, sunbathing in the window and generally delighting in the good fortune of being Goose, Keith and I would say to each other, Well, who wouldn’t be happy when everything is given to you? Love all around you, a roof over your head, food on your plate, everything taken care of?

It wasn’t until I sat down to pen this reflection that it hit me: who, indeed?

Jennifer Kelly Carpenter, a member of Holy Trinity parish in Washington, D.C., lives with her husband, Keith, and two cats in Alexandria, Va.

Comments

Patrick McNamara, O.S.M. | 1/29/2007 - 9:18am
I feel the need to convey to the editors and staff my appreciation for the June 3-10 issue, which most providentially I had the pleasure to read this afternoon.

The object of my appreciation and admiration is “Goose and Me” by Jennifer Kelly Carpenter. What a treat it was, especially after worrying my way through the previous articles, necessarily dark and depressing as they were, on the plague of news and commentary regarding the present scandals.

The sprightly piece was not only a joy to an ailurophile such as myself but, I’m sure, a lift to all who delight in the wonders of God’s creation. Goose, Maverick and Aidan: a lovable trio, especially the departed Goose.

So, thanks for publishing that article and resounding huzzahs for Ms. Jennifer.

Mischa Leendertsen | 5/27/2002 - 4:41pm
I just had to send this wonderful article on to dear friends (fellow cat lovers and a bona fide Cat Judge). It dawns on me that the realizations the author sees through felines don't stop there. Horses, dogs, all God's creatures show us the microcosm that is their world, and the wisdom we can gain by just observing them.

Mischa Leendertsen | 5/27/2002 - 4:41pm
I just had to send this wonderful article on to dear friends (fellow cat lovers and a bona fide Cat Judge). It dawns on me that the realizations the author sees through felines don't stop there. Horses, dogs, all God's creatures show us the microcosm that is their world, and the wisdom we can gain by just observing them.

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