I felt like a kid throwing a tantrum: “I can’t do this, God!”
I thought back to the previous day’s Sunday Mass — our parish priest preaching from our television screen, my family members sinking into the living room couch, and my 11-year-old brother poking my feet during the consecration of the Eucharist.
The reverence due to the service was lacking, and the intimacy of the sacrament was non-existent as we uniformly recited the prayer of spiritual communion. I felt discouraged. I felt distant from God. I wanted God’s grace my way, the way I was used to. I wanted the Eucharist.
The next day, sitting in our quiet home chapel trying to pray, I felt no expectation of comfort or consolation from our dusty crucifix hanging on the wall. I was too stubborn and frustrated to ask for it anyway. All my carefully planned routine prayers were impossible to perform without the possibility of attending Mass. How was I supposed to be the best Catholic I could be without God’s grace in the sacraments?
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I woke up from my self-pitying recollections to the sound of my cat scratching at the door. My cat didn’t exactly give me the time of day (in short, she hated me), so I was surprised to hear her demanding entrance.
I opened the door. She immediately leapt into my lap and began to purr, even allowing — or rather demanding — I pet her from top to bottom while her eyes drooped in contented bliss. I had tried to get this stubborn cat to let me love her for years, but I was still surprised by the tears that came to my eyes at this unexpected display of affection.
Shocked, I looked up at the crucifix. “Is that you God?” I thought. “Are you trying to love me in the only way you can right now?”
There are many good things that I'm going to take away from this pandemic once it has all ended. But I’ll never forget this simple experience because it reminded me of two very important realities of the way God works.
The first thing I remembered was that, although the sacraments are God’s preferred medium of grace, God (being God) is not limited by the sacraments. He can work through anything he wants, even a cat. I shouldn’t be surprised by this. God always seems to enjoy showing his love for us in unexpected ways. In fact, I believe he enjoys this endlessly. He constantly picks the least willing person to be his greatest saint or the least convenient situation to bring about the greatest good.
I’m also reminded that while on earth, he chose earthly things (bread and wine) to express spiritual realities. He can still do that. I always knew this, but I suppose in my pride I assumed that this was “second-rate” grace that he was forced to use for non-Catholics, maybe even rolling his eyes in dismay when being forced to use it.
God’s grace is powerful because it’s his Holy Spirit distributing it, no matter how it’s being distributed. Of course, he does call all people to enjoy the cleansing of baptism, the healing of confession, and the beauty of intimacy with him in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The second reminder I had through this simple experience is that God is always the initiator in our relationship with him. He always acts first. We never “take the lead” on the divine dance floor. Since I’m a planner, I often find myself checking boxes in my faith: morning prayer, check; Mass, check; Rosary, check. That day, I had been resisting spending time in our family chapel because I had no plans. I was empty and hurt and unmotivated. I hadn’t expected an answer from that dusty crucifix, but God sent me one anyway.
Perhaps this is just another story of that common human experience that reveals how “God’s ways are not my ways.” And for some reason, “his way” that day was to use a cat to express to me his love and grace.