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I tried something different a couple of weeks ago, leaving home about ten minutes earlier to go to mass. Doing so allowed me to hear something which I'd not heard for a while.
The morning air was mild, with freshness coming in off Lake Superior. I arrived in Two Harbors at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in time to hear the church bells ringing before mass.
The bell tower stood tall against the sky; a few white clouds accented the beautiful shade of morning blue. I paused on my way and watched as the bells in the open tower rang out their call for the morning gathering. It was spiritually moving.
A younger girl wearing a pretty blue dress was kneeling on the sidewalk several feet in front of the large wooden front doors of the historic brick church. I wasn't sure what she was doing. Finally, she stood up, revealing a cat at her left side, which she had been petting.
The cat was a lovely grey tortoiseshell, speckled with yellow and orange on her soft fur coat. She seemed to be clean and well cared for.
The cat wore a red collar and was well-mannered and friendly. When the little girl stood up, then it moved on, looking for someone else who would give her some attention; a simple rub on the head would do.
Although it was the first time I had ever seen this cat, I heard someone say it was a neighbor's cat who often showed up on Sunday mornings. Like a mass greeter, the feline welcomed parishioners as they arrived.
I walked in through the front doors and climbed the flight of stairs. On this occasion of being early for mass, I met Father Steve standing in the vestibule. Usually, when I arrive, he is already on the altar.
"Good morning," I said to him, "There's a cat outside the front doors greeting the people." Father Steve looked down the steps and out the open doors. He didn't seem surprised by the cat's presence, but unlike me, Father Steve is always there before mass starts, so he's probably seen the cat before.
I couldn't restrain myself, "He must be Catholic, wouldn't you think?"
Like the response one would expect after telling a corny 'Dad Jake,' Father Steve gave a soft, groaning chuckle. "That's a good one," he said. With a few more minutes until the opening hymn, I went into the church and found a seat.
I appreciate a priest who can draw the attention of his parishioners by talking about something in current times. And then ties it together with biblical events that happened two thousand years ago. Father Steve got the congregation's attention when he talked about an early scene in Saving Private Ryan, the movie. He then related what happened in that scene to the Gospel, when Jesus restored a deaf man's hearing and removed his speech impediment.
Jesus and Private Miller, from the movie scene Father Steve spoke of, both distanced themselves from the crowd and the noise. They each sought some time alone or one-on-one time with another person. We all need that sometimes. But, there was much more to his sermon.
It was an excellent sermon, straightforward and easy enough for anyone to relate to. I wished everyone could have heard it. Father Steve's message would be beneficial in helping people deal with the crazy events of the world today - even that cat that hung out in front of the church, seeking attention.
The following week, I had intended to get to church a little early again. But, for all my good intentions, it didn't happen. I was late – again.
Many cars were parked on the street; I had to park a couple of blocks away from the church. Walking down the sidewalk alone, I reflected on last Sunday morning; how peaceful it was on that beautiful day even with people all around, and how good it was to be a little early.
On this day, the sky was just as blue when I looked up to the bell tower, but the bells were done ringing; still, I could hear them in my mind.
No people were gathered visiting on the front walk, and the little girl in the blue dress wasn't there. So I said to myself, "I wonder where everyone is?" I suppose they were already inside.
I could hear the pipe organ playing and the people singing the opening hymn through the open front doors as I got closer to the church building. Although I was alone on the walk, I felt the presence of another. "Is that you Lord," I asked softly.
It was about then that I noticed the grey cat with the yellow and orange speckles, wearing a red collar. She was walking on the sidewalk, coming toward me. "No, it's me," she said, "and you're late, sir."
The cat and I shared a good laugh about that. I took a moment, reaching down to give her a rub on the head. She paused to accept my attention and pushed her face into my hand for a good scratch on the cheek. "All the other people went inside already," she told me, "You better get going."
I enjoyed arriving early for mass the week before, but being a few minutes late gave me a little quiet time alone. I also had a moment alone with the church cat on the sidewalk. I recalled Father Steve's sermon from the week before; sometimes, we all need a little alone time or one-on-one time with another. Today, I got both.
Next week, I think I'll arrive a little early for mass. Maybe there will be time to tell Father Steve another corny little joke before mass. But, in case I don't make it early, I think I'll take one of our cats, Edgar Allan's, treats with me – on the chance I might meet the church cat on the sidewalk again.