May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
From the 13th chapter of the Book of Hebrews. -- “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Everyone seems to have a different idea of what angels are or should be like. Some see them as glorious winged beings, some encounter them as “guardian angels” in a crisis, others see them in the face of strangers, and still others as a quiet presence or the “still, small voice.”
I’m sure that all of you have, at one time or another, encountered someone in your journeys who has reinforced the presence of God in your lives. Whether it was a teacher, a close friend, a complete stranger, or even a faithful pet their effect was, no doubt, profound and pronounced. Such things leave an indelible mark upon us and upon our lives, that lasts well beyond the actual physical relationship.
As some of you may know my wife and I are “cat people” and we moved here in the company of 4 cats--or “fur-people” --as we’ve come to call them because of their frequent human-like qualities.
We recently lost one of our cats--Butterscotch--to cancer. Butter was a truly extraordinary cat. He was a large, and somewhat shy, muted orange and white cat who came to us about 5 years ago, one cold and rainy day. He perched himself on our window sill until we took notice of him and brought him into our home and into our lives.
On the night before he died I was sitting with him and trying to comfort him as best I could. I began to reflect on his presence in our lives and the many ways he had been an influence upon us.
Butter was a gentle cat. Not once did he bite or scratch anyone, nor did he pay much attention to the ongoing conflict between our other 2 male cats, as to who was the “cat-in-charge” in our home.
His primary concern was, it seemed, to just be a faithful companion, to be close to us, to reassure us, and to unconditionally give us his love.
When we were troubled, his gentle presence was there to comfort us. When we were tense after a day at work and running the rat race, his soft and somewhat squeaky purr and his offered soft and furry tummy calmed us.
When we were upset at the way someone had treated us and were angry with them, his gentle demeanor taught us patience and forgiveness.
When our attitudes or prejudices started to creep out it was his gentle acceptance of all things that brought us back to right paths and the love of God.
During times of joy and celebration his kittenish antics and his sheer joy of simple things--like chasing his shadow or other imaginary critters across the kitchen floor, with great and joyful abandon--taught us to appreciate life and all of God’s bounteous gifts that surround us.
Even in his dying his gentle demeanor and loving gaze never ceased. He seemed to say, “Don’t be sad or afraid, I will love you always.”
Truly, he was a “God Present” in our lives--an angel sent to us to share God’s love with us and to serve as a constant reminder of that love. While we greatly mourn his passing we rejoice in the gifts that he gave to us, and in his example of God’s unconditional, and never ending love.
I invite all of you to look around you this day at those people, and even those pets, that you encounter in your daily journey, and who are, or who may become, a part of your lives, and I ask you to remember that by unconditionally accepting them, by sharing your lives with them, by providing for their needs, and by opening your hearts to them and sharing the love of Christ with them, that you may in fact--be entertaining angels.
I feel sorry for those people who have never had a pet, especially a cat or dog in their lives. Their lives must have an empty hole in them. In spite of their claim that their lives are fine, they simply don't know what they are missing. The unconditional love companion pets give make the stress and uncertainties of our lives bearable. Asking only food, shelter, and our companionship, they are there for us when others turn their backs or don't have time for us. They teach us the importance of caring for others and while it grieves us when they die, even in death they help us as it reaffirms the lesson that we are all mortal and that at times we have to let go.
I have often been asked what happens to our pets when they die. While Holy Scripture says nothing about it, we are told that God knows every sparrow that falls. I am firmly convinced that companion animals, those special animals who have shared their love and lives with us, are in fact a gift from God. While some people believe otherwise, I know that God grants a special status to such animals, and that they have a spiritual presence. With that spiritual presence they also have a place in heaven upon their deaths. God, being love, would not just let them vanish out of our lives without a trace. I believe that as part of our complete joy in heaven we will be reunited with everyone and every creature who has loved us and whom we have loved.
The Episcopal church has liturgies for all kinds of occasions, that bring us comfort. The following is an unofficial liturgy that many have used at the death of a loving pet. I hope you find it meaningful.
Commendation at the Time of Death of a Pet
Depart O faithful companion and creature of God,
In the name of God The Father+ who created you;
In the name of God The Son+ who sustained you;
In the name of the Holy Spirit+ who sanctified your life
May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place where there is no more suffering or pain.
Into your hands O merciful God we commend the loving companion (N.) you have given us. Acknowledge, we beseech you this creature of your creation and love, and grant him rest in the peace that passes all understanding.
May the memory of his love and companionship and the knowledge of your abiding love be with us now and ever more. Amen.
I was recently sent the following poem which is in a similar vein to my homily. This poem was adapted from "I'll Lend You A Child" by Edgar Guest. I don't know who adapted it.
Lend Me a Kitten
I will lend to you for a while
Maybe for twelve or fourteen years,
She'll bring her charms to gladden you
I cannot promise she will stay,
I've looked the whole world over
Now will you give her all your love,
And my heart replied,
I'll shelter her with tenderness,
But should you call her back
If by my love I've managed
When my cherished kitten
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