US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Preaching to kittens with St. Francis

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As I sat with a half of a dozen kittens surrounding me last night at a cat shelter (photo from my phone--there were more next to and behind me!), I couldn't help but think of the image of St. Francis preaching to the birds.

I "volunteer" at a cat shelter on Monday nights, and it was a happy coincidence that yesterday was St. Francis of Assisi's feast day. I add the quotation marks because I'm not sure that petting cats for a few hours every week qualifies as a grand work of service. I more see it as a way to get my fix of feline affection (I started volunteering after losing my cat of 19 years earlier this year).

Still, as I thought about St. Francis and his birds last night, I wondered what significance my time at the shelter has had. It is rewarding to see a shy cat warm up to you over time, and most of the cats are hungry for love and interaction. Of course, some cats still won't let me get near them, and I've gotten a few scratches when I've tried.

Volunteering with cats isn't all that different from volunteering with people. Some people are grateful for your help and some aren't, and when it comes down to it, volunteering is more about you than it is about the people (or animals) you serve. A few hours, or even a life dedicated to service, might not change the world, but it can make you more compassionate, patient, and spiritual. This is a running theme in Thrift Store Saints, a book I just read for U.S. Catholic book club (highly recommended). It's about how the author, Jane Knuth, has developed as a person through volunteering with St. Vincent de Paul Society.

I still think petting cats is more of an indulgence than a sacrifice, but must every volunteer job be painful? I'm not sure St. Francis would say so. I haven't started preaching to the cats yet, but perhaps volunteering at a cat shelter can help me learn from St. Francis and become more enchanted with the world, as Keith Warner suggests.