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You Too Can Be a Patron Saint of Cats!

Have you ever been so worried about your pets that you prayed for them? Have you ever wondered whether God cares enough about pets to make praying for them worthwhile? Let me tell you some stories about prayers for First Presbyterian pets and what happened.

Last fall there was a Blessing of the Animals ceremony at the church. FPC member Sarah couldn’t bring her cat Binx, who was due to have ear surgery, but she asked us to pray for him. We did, and do you know what? That night, Sarah’s cat shook its head; something came flying out of its infected ear, and the next day the vet pronounced the kitty cured. No need for surgery.

Sarah had a similar prayer answered just this week. George, Sarah’s skittish orange cat, got out of the house in January. Sarah admitted she was afraid to hope for George’s safe return because she might not get what she hoped for. (“It’s the hope that kills you,” the soccer fans say in Ted Lasso). But Sarah did pray and asked the staff to pray with her. We did. Weeks went by. George was seen on a Blink camera. He was seen by neighbors. Traps were set. Finally, George took the bait (salmon), and Sarah and George were reunited. Another answer to prayers for our furry friends!

I texted the good news to the staff, and Jon texted back, asking if I were the new patron saint of cats. Nope. There’s already an unofficial patron saint of cats. Her name is Gertrude, and she was the abbess of a monastery in Nivelles (modern day Belgium) in the seventh century AD. Gertrude was known for her long prayers and periods of fasting, as most monks and nuns were, but she also ran a monastery that served poor people and provided rooms for pilgrims to sleep in. Gertrude was an innovator. She combined the contemplative lifestyle of nuns with the active lifestyle of dedicated Christian laypeople. She died on March 17, and it’s said that she was greeted by St. Patrick as she entered heaven.

How did Gertrude become the patron saint of cats? Well, Gertrude was known for praying for the souls of the dead. Later Medieval artists would portray these souls as mice scurrying around Gertrude’s feet. In time, Catholic Christians would pray to St. Gertrude for help with mice infestations. Recently, faithful Catholics and cat lovers made the leap from Gertrude as enemy of mice to Gertrude as friend of cats. Some sources say the first publication to link Gertrude and cats was a 1981 catalog, Metropolitan Cats, put out by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Now you can buy pictures of St. Gertrude cradling cats on Etsy.

Presbyterians believe that everyone who is in Christ is a saint. For us, saints are not a special category of Christians. So, I guess you and I and everyone can be a patron saint of cats whenever we put their wellbeing in God’s hands. And there’s no reason not to. In the hymn, This Is My Father’s World, there’s a line or two that goes:

This is my Father’s world!

The battle is not done.

Jesus who died

Shall be satisfied

And earth and heaven be one.

Cats are part of God’s world. When Jesus comes again, he’ll unite this world with the next, and that’s got to be Good News for all creatures great and small, not just people.

Now, your prayers for your pets won’t always be answered the way you like. I’ve prayed for our pets, and as the minister in the household, I’ve also conducted some funerals for our pets. But if you care about your pets, by all means pray for them. And if you’d like to be part of a community where all creatures are precious in God’s eyes, then worship with us at First Presbyterian Church. We are an Earth Care Congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

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