42: Oliver’s Ministry

42: Oliver’s Ministry

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Oliver’s Ministry

But ask the animals, and they will teach you.

~Job 12:7

Oliver was next on the list at the local shelter to be euthanized. An irresistible tabby with markings that looked like thick black mascara outlining his friendly green eyes, he was doing his feline best to attract the attention of my sister and her pastor husband. They fell for his charms and took him home to their church rectory where he was free to explore the large rooms, spacious yard, and cemetery next door.

One hot summer day, the church door was left open as a funeral got underway. Oliver took the organ music as his cue to check things out. He went up the wide stone steps on little cat feet and sat in the doorway listening to the service. As the pastor read the part of the eulogy that described the deceased as an avid animal lover, Oliver padded down the aisle, all the way to the front row of the church, where he approached the grieving granddaughter. He sat at the end of the pew and stared up at the little girl. She stared back at him for a moment and then invited him to hop up and sit with her. Oliver accepted the invitation, curled up on the child’s lap and stayed there until the closing prayer, as if in tribute to the dearly departed. His mere presence offered a comforting distraction to those in mourning. When the service ended, Oliver left the way he had come.

Parishioners often talk about visiting the cemetery and the graves of their loved ones and finding Oliver there at just the right moment, purring, looking for a scratch behind the ears, ready to offer a gentle rub up against a mourner’s leg. Oliver can sometimes be seen perched serenely on a monument, as a reminder that we are watched over and not alone.

But something was different this time. The hearse had already pulled away from the graveside and the casket, draped with flowers, was resting on racks waiting to be lowered into the ground. There sat Oliver as usual, present in the moments that can be the saddest for family and friends. He seemed once more to provide a pleasant, even hopeful, distraction from overwhelming grief.

Suddenly, Oliver flicked his tail and dove into the hole under the coffin just as the lowering device was switched on. My sister gasped, “Oh! Get the cat!” The pastor sprang into action, his clerical robes billowing white around him. He reached out in the nick of time to grab Oliver by his hind legs and haul him to safety.

As people chatted and milled about, chuckling over Oliver’s narrow escape, he wound his way through the legs of the crowd and settled at the feet of the widow. She bent down to pick him up. As she stroked and Oliver purred, she looked him in the eye and whispered, “You stay with him now and I’ll be back soon to visit you both.”

~Jo Yuill Darlington

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