The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins
October 23, 2006, St. James of Jerusalem
Prosper, the elder cat of the house died today after a good seventeen and a half years of life. He had been diagnosed with cancer a little over two weeks ago and he was unable any longer to eat or get himself in the litter box, even though he weighed next to nothing.
Prosper was my first “pet” on my own as an adult. He came into my life a few months before I was ordained a deacon and has lived with me through two relationships and the lonely time in between. I learned from him that “pet” is an unworthy word for a companion who is a gift from God.
Prosper was named for St. Prosper of Aquitaine, who lived in the early 5th century and famously said, Legem credendi lex stuat supplicandi (the law of prayer establishes the law of belief). I was a student at the Catholic University of America studying liturgical theology when he came into my life. The Latin words were stenciled on the cover over his litter box for many years.
His name caused me to remember him, though, whenever I said one of several psalms that use the word, especially Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may they prosper that love thee.” And there was also a favorite hymn that includes the words, “Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy way and defend thee.” Of course, most people, including John Bradley when he first came into my life, thought he was named for the Star Trek greeting, “Live long and prosper!”
Prosper was not a lap cat; he was his own cat. He meted out affection when he wanted to do so. He was, ironically, however, a great purr-er, and would launch into a table-shaking purr if you just looked at him. He purred to the end, by the way, despite barely being able to breathe.
Prosper was mortally offended each time a new being came into the house. First was John Bradley, who he attacked regularly (and literally) for several weeks when we were first dating. He did not, in particular, like John in my bedroom, which was his domain. Then came Serge, our other cat (who died earlier this year), whom Prosper always regarded with aloof disdain. Finally came the worst, the dog, whom Prosper was convinced was the hound of hell (for his part, Cuthbert has always been convinced that Prosper was the devil incarnate). For many years this standoff led to Prosper’s living in the partially-finished basement of our townhouse in Maryland, his favorite hideout being above the ceiling tiles to which he could get by leaping from floor to washing machine to hot water heater to furnace.
Once we moved to New York two years ago, he lost his basement hideout and, miraculously he and the dog reached an agreement of mutual tolerance (tolerance, however, was as far as it ever got). For these last two years he also lived with diabetes. He almost always purred through his twice daily shot.
I am not in the least bit ashamed to say that I loved that cat. He was my friend. They say animals don’t have souls, but Prosper taught me that they are quite wrong. If nothing else, how could something without a soul, leave mine so wounded at his passing.
While we were waiting for the vet to come today, I ran across this verse from the Qur’an (Koran):
There is not a beast on earth, nor fowl that flieth on two wings, but they are people like unto you, and to God they shall return.
My feline friend returned to God today. I am heartbroken, but also grateful because, of course, he was a gift from God to begin with. I prospered who loved him.