Monday, May 28, 2007

Catholic Cats? Maybe in the Case of Blessed Maria Bagnesi!

As the proud owner of three fine felines (and for nearly a year, we actually had six!), cats have come to take a prominent place in the O'Toole household after a decade with only dogs and children. That being the case, it seemed wrong to not blog about today's blessed (often neglected in life and now even in death) especially with that cat connection. So without further ado, the story of my new favorite "cat woman," Blessed Maria Bartholomaea Bagnesi.

Born in Florence on the Feast of the Assumption, 1514, Maria was a beautiful and happy child, despite the fact she was frequently ignored by her mother. Often cold and ill-fed, Maria sometimes wandered over to the convent where her sister, a Dominican nun, resided to take shelter there. Eventually three more of Marietta's (so nicknamed because of her small size) sisters joined the convent, and she figured to do the same. However, much to her horror, Maria's father not only arranged a marriage for her but set a date without her knowledge. Upon hearing the news, Maria was so shocked she fainted, and when she awoke was unable to walk, and remained bedridden.

While it is difficult to imagine becoming so distressed at the prospect of marriage that one becomes crippled (of course, depending upon what this guy looked like, maybe not) but that seems to be the case with little Maria. Unfortunately what might have been a temporary physical reaction probably turned into something permanent due to her father's penchant for sixteenth century quacks. Covering her with mud, wrapping her in big rubber bands ("I felt like a squashed raisin" was all Maria could say) and given all types of ridiculous potions, Maria got worse rather than better. Finally in 1544, she was allowed to become a Third Order Dominican, and for a time she actually could walk again. However the years of neglect led to pleurisy, asthma and kidney disease, and after a year she regressed, almost never leaving her bed again.

But her confessor, seeing her great devotion to Christ, Our Lady, and St. Bartholomew (whose name she later added) would not let her gifts be wasted, and gradually he sent pilgrims of all sorts to seek peace at her bedside. Not only did Maria's power to reconcile prove extraordinary—she consoled the sorrowing, converted sinners and healed the sick, but the area's animals took to visiting her as well. Her special fondness for cats is well documented and at times Maria too had as many as half a dozen stay in her room. One cat in particular was especially dutiful, not only guarding her songbirds but attending to her bedside needs, including fetching doctors when Maria got sick or cheese when she grew hungry.

Toward the end of her life, Maria was often caught up in holy ecstasies, but since some resentful sisters assumed she was possessed, she was reluctant to share these visions with them. However, when a young Mary Magdalen of Pazzi (who later became a saint and had mystical experiences of her own) came to visit her, she sensed a kindred spirit. This friendship allowed Maria to share them with the astute youth, and it is the younger Mary who recorded them. It is also well known that Bagnesi levitated during several of these ecstasies, although it is not recorded what the cats thought about all that! Maria died in 1577, and was not beatified until 1804 with her sainthood still pending.

Of course, if cats had souls and actually could intercede, Maria's date for her canonization would no doubt already have happened. So I guess it's up to us cat lovers to take up her cause. I just hope Hubey, Mango and "Fat Tony" O'Toole are still around to meow when it happens ...

1 comment :

Kathleen said...

Dear Tom and Jeanette,

I think it only fair to tell you up front that I can't stand cats - I am the driver who laughs at bumper stickers that say things like: "Lost your cat? Try looking under my tires." Oh, I know cat lovers feel I am evil - my sister-in-law prays for my conversion. When I learned of my SEVERE cat allergy it was one month before my wedding. My husband actually took a second before confirming I was more important than his hope to have a kitty one day (I slugged
him for that one).

Then there was the neighbor's cat who would sun himslef in the middle of the road - just when you were in a hurry to get somewhere! He would just lounge and roll over, then stare at you just daring you come closer. I prayed at those moments, cause all I really wanted to do was hit the gas!

Yes, my husband has done his duty - telling me how wonderful cats are, how I should like them as much as any other animal, and how I can't be a good Catholic and HATE cats. My heart has hardened - I do not like cats and I never will. Whenever I am around cats they come to me and do not
leave!!! They KNOW I am allergic and they are taunting me. Truly! It is like that other bumper sticker, "I am not paranoid, there really are people out to get me!"

Well, your work to swing me over to a more favorable view of ND has
succeeded but I will not succumb to loving cats!!! Man, I need some Benedryl - just talking about them makes my eyes water and my lungs clog up!

Looking forward to June 16th (you are not bringing a cat are you?) - God Bless, Kathleen

PS- just for the record, and just so I don't spend too much time in Purgatory, I did save a kitten from certain death during our first year of marriage. Pat was
floored when he came home from work and I had a tiny kitten sitting on a nice towel in the bath tub - I'll never forget the look he gave me. I just shrugged
it off and said, "Well, I couldn't just let him die....but I still hate cats!" Pat's sister took in the little guy, she's the one still praying for my cat conversion.