Phillipa Catherine – Union, Kentucky

Hello!  My name is Phillipa Catherine.  I am an eight-year-old feline.  On our Zoom call I explained to Novice Master Br. Ricky that I wanted to join the Feline Cloister because my human is, surprisingly, a lot like me and she needs some help!  Br. Ricky gave me an understanding nod and mewed, “This must mean that you need help, too, Phillipa Catherine.” 

I meowed my confusion at what Br. Ricky said.  “We often see our own growing edges in others,”  Br. Ricky continued.  “Good for you for taking this step to novicehood to help your human and yourself.  The Rule can help you be compassionate with her.” 

Br. Ricky pawed through his well-worn copy of The Rule of St. Benedict in Mew and read this to me.

“This, then, is the good zeal which members must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.”  RB 72.3-6

I was purring right along until I heard the word “obedience.”  That made my fur stand up. I shared with Br. Ricky that my human accuses me of being imperious, i.e., that I assume power and authority in our household.  For example, I tell my human when I want something and expect an audible response from her.   I also decide when and where contact should take place.  I can be a bit particular when I don’t get my own way. too.  As a feline I am in charge, right?

All through my declaration of felines truths, Br. Ricky was writing energetically in a little notebook with his tiny green pencil.  He looked up and, with a small sigh. confessed, “Obedience is a challenge for us felines.  We even struggle with this in the Feline Cloister.  But as Benedictines we promise to follow the Rule as a cenobite.

“There are clearly four kinds of monastics. First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot or prioress.”  RB 71.1-2

“We look to others and the Rule to help us determine who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do,” Br. Ricky continued.  “Benedict devoted two whole chapters on (Chapter 5 – Obedience and Chapter 71 – Mutual Obedience).  It sounds like this will be an area of the Rule that you can explore.” 

 I shifted uneasily on my special cushion placed in front of the computer screen.  As a novice will I be asked to give up nice soft spots like this?  Br. Ricky continued his mew on obedience. 

“Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the prioress and abbot but also to one another, since we know that it is by this way of obedience that we go to God.”  RB 71.1-2

Deciding to quickly change the subject, I meowed that I love to sleep under my human’s blanket with my head resting on her arm. I like to play with boxes, my ice cream cone toy, and occasionally, with the dogs.  Br. Ricky gave a feline smile.  He explained that fostering loving relationships is an important part of the Rule.  That made me feel better.

I know that humans like felines who are social.  I can be very social.  When I am comfortable I will “talk” a lot.  It’s fun to “meow” back and forth with my human.  Br. Ricky gave a little feline chuckle.

I confessed that I can be shy.  I will come downstairs only after new people have made themselves known for a few minutes.  I keep my distance though.  I sit on the step where I can look over the entire kitchen and living room and “supervise”.  Br. Ricky mewed that welcoming guests is an important practice in the Rule.  It is a holy calling.

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, who said: I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35).  RB 53.1

Illus.  Cat playing with
an ice cream cone toy

Br. Ricky asked what I don’t like.  That was easy: to be picked up when I haven’t given the okay.  And I really get annoyed when the dogs jump on the bed after I’m already settled for the night.  “That is annoying,” Br. Ricky admitted.  “Yet Benedict asks us to have an open heart and to be flexible.”  He mewed again from the Rule.

“No monastics are to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.”  RB 72.7

I stifled a tiny hiss.  But, in truth, I am happy about becoming a novice because I want to help my human.  At that Br. Ricky purred.

My human needs some help learning about how to welcome guests she doesn’t yet know.  Like me she prefers to hide away until strangers are gone.  She’s only really comfortable talking with small groups of her closest friends.

Br. Ricky gave an understanding nod.  

Illus.  Kitten ready to
clap her paws

Br Ricky loved my idea of sharing with my human the Benedictine practice of welcoming guests as Christ and clapped his paws.  “Excellent, Novice Phillipa Catherine!”  I gave a big purr.  He suggested that we don’t have to feel comfortable mewing with everyone.  But if we need to mew with others who make us uncomfortable, we can remember this –

“Place your hope in God alone.”  RB 4.41

Now I clapped my paws together.  Being a novice is going to be purr-fect!

My favorite verses from the Rule:

“Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”  Prologue 48-49