Posted October 12, 2005 in MH Edmonton AB:
The Cat and the Boy

by Patrick Stewart, current director of Marian Centre Edmonton.

Please, before reading ahead, enter the heart of the child within you. We all are children to some degree, or else, Scripture tells us, we’re not going to make it to heaven.

Now let’s begin this journey into the heart of Marian Centre with a story called, “The Cat.”

Once there was a cat. A funnier looking cat you never did see. He was black and white. He was furry and shaggy and he had big feet.

He was fierce. At least people thought he was fierce. But he had had a hard life. Once he was caught up in a tree for two days. Another time he was rolled up in a big rug for three days. And once some mean kids tried to drown him.

So he was afraid of people. People were the enemy. The world was his enemy. He felt alone. Afraid. He felt he had to defend himself. He became very hostile.

If anyone came near him, he would fight. He wasn’t fighting because he was bad, but because he had to defend himself.

When he wasn’t fighting, he would go into a paper bag or a box and hide from his enemies. If he heard anyone come by, he would stretch out his paw, put out his claws, and scratch! So people avoided him.

“Stay away from cat,” they said, “Cat is bad. He will hurt you.”

One day, a boy came along and saw cat. Boy used to be sad and lonely, but he wasn’t sad and lonely any more because someone had befriended him.

Boy said, “Oh, what a beautiful cat!”

He knew cat wasn’t bad. He knew cat was good, but had had a hard life.

Boy sat beside cat. Cat reached out and scratched him.

But boy didn’t yell at cat, and he didn’t leave. He stayed and talked gently to cat.

What a strange boy this is! thought cat. He was still afraid, but he didn’t try to scratch boy again.

Every day boy would come and talk to cat. Cat would stick his head out of the bag and listen.

Eventually cat became braver and came out of the bag. Finally, one day he went right up to boy and curled up and purred. Purrrrrrrrrrrr…

After that, boy and cat spent a lot of time together—lying quietly in the grass and leaping joyfully through the fields. The End.*

So what’s the point? Love one another. You can’t judge a cat by his colors! What else? Stay with some one long enough so they know you love them. What else? Love received becomes love given. Pass it on.

That’s what we of Madonna House have been trying to do in Edmonton. For 50 years; we have been trying to pass on love.

For fifty years we have been trying to sit quietly and gently with poor, broken, frightened, lonely, sometimes hostile, sometimes forsaken, men and women.

How have we done that? Well, for 50 years we’ve served meals. When Marian Centre first opened back in 1955, and on into the early ’60s, we were serving up to a thousand people a day.

These days, since other groups have also taken on feeding people, we serve an average of 200. That’s still a lot of lonely people, a lot of hurting people, a lot of scared people.

We also give away clothing. These are the sorts of things we do for the poor.

But for 50 years what has mattered most is that we have given smiles and we’ve given direct eye-to-eye contact.

Do you know that possibly the greatest poverty that anyone can experience is to have no one look them in the eye? Can you imagine that?

Of course you know a bit of that. You walk down a city street, and you can see the people that suffer that kind of poverty. When you walk by, they look aside with that “I am unworthy” glance. They are sufferers of the poverty of not being known.

Do you have friends who look you right in the eye? You can be across the room, across a parking lot, and they look at you and you’re known. Comforting isn’t it?

That’s the most profound thing we do in Edmonton. We know rich people, poor people, and many in between—the heart-to-heart kind of “know,”—not the “what do you do” kind.

We have fifteen to thirty volunteers who come to our house to serve every day, and we aim to teach them by example, by our words, and by our spiritual reading and discussion with them, to do the same thing.

There are 10 staff and, say, 20 volunteers in a day; so that’s 30 people who are looking and knowing and loving in their actions and in their hearts. It has an impact.

What is the impact? For others I really don’t know. I do know what it does to me. So, I look at Elsie, for example. I look into her eyes with some attempt to love. Then Elsie looks back into my eyes, and my heart is melted by the beauty of her heart.

Some years before I was assigned to Marian Centre, I was in London, England, with one of my uncles, a Jesuit priest. It was early morning and we were on our way to the train station. An elderly man was walking toward us. He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and a heavy beard.

I was young, pretty new in Madonna House, and I decided that I was going to show my uncle what a real Christian is like! I was going to say hello to this man.

I was doing this for my uncle, not for the man. So, as we got just about abreast of the man, I looked at him and said, “Good morning!”

He looked deep into my eyes and into my heart and said, “Good Morning, young man.”
That was it. You know, I still carry that man in my heart, and his love still comforts me. In fact, that’s the only thing I really remember about that trip to London.

* “The Cat” is from Be Always Little: Christian Fables for Young and Old by Jude Fischer. It’s available from MH Publications.


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