A story of the first Christmas and a cat who was there . . .
|That first Christmas, two thousand years ago, was a clear and cloudless night. The velvet black skies were filled with the breath-taking beauty of the stars and with the startling brilliance of one great star that shed its light over a small stable in Bethlehem.
Although that long-ago night was cold, the snug stable was warm with the body heat of the animals that crowded around the tiny Child who lay in a manger. The Child was wrapped in strips of cloth and His only mattress was the clean, sweet grasses provided to feed the animals.
It was late. The many visitors had left. the shepherds had returned to their flocks. The wise men also had departed, leaving the new family in privacy. Only the animals remained. the mare reached forward shyly to sniff at the Child. With wonder in her large brown eyes, the cow stared at the Baby while her calf slept curled at her side. The mother goat, feeding her own twin babies, gazed at the newborn Child.
In the night, the Child cried out, and, as mothers have for thousands of years, the young woman roused herself, trying not to disturb her husband, and went to the Child. She fed the Baby, tended to His clothing, and rocked Him in her arms.
But He would not be soothed. An hour passed and still He cried. She laid Him on her shoulder and patted his back, but this did not help. She sang softly to Him. For a moment, He ceased His crying, listening, but soon began to weep again. In defeat, His mother laid Him again in the manger, looking down upon Him in sympathy and sorrow.
From the straw beneath the manger, there now appeared a small striped kitten. Curious, as is all her tribe, the kitten climbed quickly to the manger and looked down at the Child. After a moment of curious inspection, the kitten crept into the manger, sniffed at the Baby and lay down beside the crying Child, curling into a sleepy ball.
The Child reached out in His infant anger and touched the silken fur. At His touch, the kitten began to purr. And she purred, and purred, and purred. The Child ceased His crying and a look of listening crossed His small face. His waving hands brushed again and again against the softness of the small cat's fur. At last, soothed by the kitten's rumbling song of happiness, the Child slept.
The Mother, Mary, sat watching the sleeping Child and the sleeping cat. Her heart swelled in gratitude and she lay her hand in thanks on the small cat's head.
And so it happened -- some two thousand years ago. And, yet, today, if you look into the face of a striped tabby cat, you will see, hidden in the pattern of the stripes, the mark of the Mother's gratitude to that small purring kitten.
Look and you will see that each tabby cat wears the mark of the Madonna's thanks -- a large letter "M" just above its eyes.