Saint Francis and the Brown-Black Cat

Saint Francis and the Brown-Black Cat September 4, 2020

The week has not been conducive to very much writing.

I had my second rabies shot on Wednesday, after the terrifying emergency room misadventure on Sunday night and Monday morning. It was a little earlier than I’m accustomed to going out of the house thanks to my fights with fatigue. Of course, the infusion department is right across a whimsically-decorated hallway from the labor and delivery ward, which made me feel worse.

The nurses were very gentle, and the shot barely even hurt. I got to slip into that beautiful chapel on the ground floor and talk to Christ in Person again. That was a rare gift. Two more shots to go.

I’m awfully tired and grouchy from the amoxicillin.

The backyard is turning into a jungle. The beans are finally dying off, the corn is almost done and the basil bolted. I don’t know if we’ll get any Autumn broccoli, but the peas and the butterbush squash are up. I’ve found one green pumpkin. That one lemon-yellow sunflower I planted after the menacing neighbor’s garden rampage is in bloom.

I went out to pull weeds for a little bit the other day, and the cat who had caused all the trouble came to watch me.

I recognized her this time. The neighbor’s cats are all black and white, but she’s slightly brownish on her rump. I don’t know how some cats get to be that color. Maybe tuxedo cats are like black horses: they turn brown if they live outside in the sunshine all day.

I’d mistakenly fed this cat a snack, thinking it was my neighbor’s cat and not a LaBelle stray, on Saint Sabina’s feast day, so I’d been calling the cat Sabina.  She bit me in the evening the next day on the traditional feast of Saint Rose, and I finally got home from the hospital, feeling like a pincushion, early on the feast of Saint Raymond Nonnatus.

The cat climbed onto the back steps and meowed in a friendly way.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here, Sabina,” I said.

“Meow,” demurred Sabina.

“If you think you’re going to get another bite to eat after what you did to me last time?” I insisted. “I had to get seven shots because of you and I’m going back tomorrow!”

“Meow,” Sabina conceded.

“I’m glad you’re sorry, but our actions have consequences,” I said.

The cat continued around the house.

When I came in with my hands full of greens, she was around the corner by the front porch, still staring at me.

A friend I was talking to online said that that it sounded like a conversation Saint Francis would have. But my husband pointed out that a cat wouldn’t have bitten Francis in the first place.

For years I had an aversion to the Poor Man of Assisi, because of all the things that have happened to me since coming to Steubenville. Lately, we’re somehow on a better footing. I talk to him now and then. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to meet him one afternoon while gardening– if he wandered into the backyard from the alley and sat on the back steps, tonsured, lurid holes in both hands, nasty scab over one eye, clad only in a reeking homespun cassock he’d just gotten after trading clothes with a beggar again.

Sometimes I talk to him the same way I talked to Sabina. “You’ve got a lot of nerve coming back here, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone. If you think you’re going to get me to listen after what you did to me, drawing me here, abandoning me among your rotten spoiled children like this?  That emotionally abusive bully of a priest humiliated me and prayed for me to have ‘right faith, certain hope, and perfect perfect charity‘ as he was doing it. That’s your line. He learned that prayer from you. And that’s nothing at all compared to what the others did to people much more helpless than I am. I got off easy. It’s nothing compared to what Father Sam Tiesi’s victim had to put up with, first from Father Sam and then from Father Mike Scanlan. It’s nothing compared to the rapes and the sexual assaults and they way they were handled. It’s nothing compared to the way the upper-class Franciscan University set are fighting to kick the poor out of the neighborhood, the way they despise poor people and assume the worst about them. These are your children. They’re your responsibility. I hope you’re sorry, but actions have consequences.”

Sometimes I imagine myself falling into his arms to have a cry, and he holds me. I can picture that scene so vividly, for some reason. He hugs me while I pound my fists into his chest and tell him it’s all his fault. He is only a little taller than I am, and his hands are dirtier than mine are after an hour of pulling weeds.  Then he says “the King is passing by” in a quiet voice.  I look up to see the Lord dragging His cross through my garden, filthy and lonely, covered in dark red blood flecked with the spittle of the devout and respectable.

Sometimes I imagine Saint Francis and Lady Clare walking around Franciscan University campus, trying to find someone to talk with them, ringing the buzzer on the stately new friary to no avail. Eventually they are ushered out by security guards for being vagrants who smell unclean and have a thick foreign accent. I imagine them wandering down University Boulevard and through downtown, getting more and more confused, perhaps stopping to freshen up in the big Baroque traditional church and being taken aback by the sign saying to call the police on beggars rather than giving them money. And then they stumble upon The Friendship Room. One of the volunteers gently chides them for not social distancing and hands them each a blue disposable mask, then introduces herself, and they talk. The volunteers direct them to wash up with soap at the outdoor sink. Then they bring them a meal and show them how to use the fridge and pantry, and the little free library. They get online and ask their Facebook followers to bring them some gently used clothes for a couple from out of town who have nothing clean to wear. They bandage Francis’s hands for him. They try to talk him into taking a pair of shoes. They show them the community garden and invite them to pick a salad to take back wherever they came from. And Francis and Claire are so happy to have found their real children at last.

That’s the kind of thing that goes through my head when I pray.

Of course, sometimes I don’t pray while I garden.

Sometimes I just talk to cats.

Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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