A lesson in life and faith - from cats

Doorkins Magnificat(Photo: Southwark Cathedral)

A few months ago, I made an odd pilgrimage. My friend Trevor, a fellow vicar, and I made our way up to Southwark Cathedral. We were on our way to meet a very inspiring character – Doorkins Magnificat.

Doorkins is a stray cat who made her home at the cathedral and became something of a superstar. She eventually published a book, set up a charity and ran the cathedral along with the dean. But most of all she became a spiritual presence in the place. As she was getting on a bit, she is now retired and living out her twilight years with a member of the cathedral staff.

When I spoke to the sub-dean about her, he was rather lovely. He told me that the cat somehow humanised the cathedral and helped people to look down at floor level rather than just gaze upwards.

The cat was a stray who made her home in the cathedral, which is an important image. In some way, we are strays and all need a home that we can be happy and safe in.

People from all round the world came to visit Doorkins. I found her sitting in the choir-stalls - well, laying asleep there. She has experience when it comes to sleeping. When the Queen came to visit her, she slept through the whole thing.

She has also been known to disgrace herself – cleaning herself while prominent speakers were delivering their sermons.

I mention her on the one hand because I am a cat lover. As a vicar, I spend a lot of time on my own. My cats are more than just company. They have amazing empathy and grace and they, of course, nature's comedians. I refer to one of my cats as my pastoral assistant. Whenever I have a visitor who wants to unburden themselves to me, my little black cat Luna joins us and sits on their lap. I think she does more good than I do.

Cats have taught me a great deal. They know how to rest and how to be distracted. They are graceful and polite, and I have grown to admire them over time.

Many of the great saints had unique and close friendships with animals. St Julien of Norwich had her faithful cat beside her as she counselled people. The Celtic saints struck up friendships with wild and domesticated animals. There are stories of friendships with pigs and mice and even flies. Indeed wild animals were known to save the lives of saints on various occasions.

They may sound fanciful but they point to a profound truth. If the whole world is baptised with holiness – because Christ was one of us and lived here – then our animal friends both reveal God and in some sense worship him just by being what and who they are. We would do well to cherish them and pay attention to them.

An appreciation of the created world and the creatures we share our planet with is the beginning of wonderment – and wonderment is at the heart of God.

C S Lewis was a great cat lover. He fed his old Tom with fish (mashed up) every day. He was known to take his hat off and say good morning to any cat he passed. He regarded his cat as a personal friend and was very grateful for him. He was bereft when he died - just as Dr Johnson was bereft when his cat died.

Johnson credited his cat with helping him to recover from his many bouts of depression. If you visit Johnson's old house in the City of London, you will see a statue of the cat.

I feel the same about cats. I have shared my life with my cat friends for nearly 20 years. I wouldn't be without them. They have taught me much about God.

Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. He is the author of 'Enterprise and Entrepreneurship: doing good through the local church' The Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics, £4.99. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214 or find out more at www.stevemorrisauthor.org.