Take notice of that persistent voice

The Living Rite column explores what you will see, hear, taste, touch or smell while at church this weekend.

We’re quite used to hearing about “a voice crying out in the wilderness” at this point in Advent. The readings tell us that the Lord is near, and John the Baptist heralds his arrival.

Voices crying out are not that unusual at church. We hear people loudly greeting each other before and after Mass. We hear children crying out their joy or distress during Mass. We listen to people singing — loudly or not so loudly. And microphones and speakers boost the proclaimers’ voices.

But do we think about what any one voice might mean for us?

Several years ago, my pet cat died. Since she had come from a shelter, I decided to go again to a shelter for another cat. I had a very specific cat in mind — I had seen her photo on the shelter’s website.

I asked to see that cat and, as cats often do, she paid no attention whatsoever to me. (As cat owners will tell you — if it’s the right cat, it wants to be with you almost right away. Otherwise, forget it.)

I went around to the other cages for a bit, petting this cat, talking to that kitten. About 45 minutes went by.

And suddenly it struck me that — in the midst of all the noise of that cat room, the meows and purrs, whines and even growls — I heard screaming. Not an alarmed scream or distressed shrieks, but a very loud and persistent caterwaul.

I decided to see which cat was making such a fuss and why.
In a far cage, at the back of the room, with no name tag or information sheet on the door and no blanket inside, stood a very thin and obviously elderly gray cat. Calling and calling.

As soon as I put my hand in the cage, the noise stopped. After petting her a while, I turned to leave.

The loud calls began.

That cat wanted my attention. She had decided, apparently from the moment she saw me walk in that door, that she was going to be my cat. And she was not about to be quiet until I took her home.

Which I did. She lived with me for five years before she died at the ripe old age of 19.

To think I had all but missed seeing her. If she hadn’t had such a loud — and persistent — voice, I would never have noticed.

John the Baptist probably didn’t caterwaul or shriek. But he was probably loud and, no doubt, persistent. He intended to change people’s lives. Some walked by. Others took his word home.

That’s what the Advent message means. Someone wants your attention. All you have to do is stop and notice. It could be life-changing.

Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of many books.