While walking around the farm with my dad, he told me how he was working near the silo when he heard a cat meowing desperately. He finally tracked it down to the silo.
No longer in use, my father put the bottom two doors in place to keep animals out. The cat, however, saw these as mere obstacles to the possible delight inside. Despite having the whole farm on which to hunt, in addition to the food already supplied, the cat climbed the doors and jumped in the silo.
Once inside, the cat realized that it could not get out; the open door was too high and the walls too smooth. The only thing left to do was cry for help and hope that it would come. Fortunately, my dad heard its cry and opened the bottom door. The cat jumped out of its future tomb and scampered off alive and free.
It is a good image of the drama of the spiritual life. Adam and Eve had the whole garden from which to eat and, unlike the cat, understood the obstacle put before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which “symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 396). The obstacle was a commandment, which required the response of obedience. But as we know, “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command … He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good” (Catechism, 397, 398).
This left man helpless and unable to get out of the situation: “Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves a liberator” (St. Gregory of Nyssa, in Catechism, 457). There was nothing he could do but cry for help and hope that it would come.
Each Sunday we profess the joyful truth that that hope was fulfilled: “For us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven; by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Every person participates in this great drama of salvation. We all have been created by the same God for the same purpose: to know and to love Him, who first loved us. We all face the same basic challenges: do we believe in Him, and do we trust Him? Do we trust Him enough to believe that His commandments are not limits on our freedom, but are rather the only way in which we can truly be free? Do we understand ourselves well enough to know that because we still carry the wounds of original sin, we sometimes desire things that will harm us rather than make us happy?
“Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action, and morals” (Catechism, 407).
Do we understand that we cannot get to heaven on our own, and that when we jump into the silo of sin we cannot get out by ourselves? Do we have the sense to say with the psalmist, “Out of the depths I call to you, Lord; Lord hear my cry! May your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalms 129)? And do we have the confidence in God’s love for us that He will open the door of that spiritual tomb that we may emerge alive and free?
The Rev. Michael Miller is pastor at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Stillwater.