One of my sisters decided to buy a cat with a complicated gene pool, which she named Mitzi. This was never going to be a cute, cuddly, easy-going cat, but my sister thought that with time, she would settle down in the ancient cottage, in the grounds of an apple orchard, and get to like her fellow housemates, including my brother-in-law and Hero, a beautiful but ageing golden Labrador.
These idyllic surroundings should have been a perfect setting for a quiet, peaceful life for all concerned, but from the moment Mitzi was introduced into the family, she caused mayhem, especially for poor Hero. Adopting the house as her sole territory which she was reluctant to share, Mitzi would regularly lie in menacing wait for the poor dog. Soon, both animals had to be kept apart for their own safety; they couldn’t even be in the same room without fighting. In most of the scraps, Mitzi claimed the victor’s title.
This situation continued for about a year. Just hearing each other in the vicinity would result in a ferocious confrontation between the two animals. Then Hero became unwell. He gradually stopped noticing Mitzi’s continued attempts to goad him and, eventually, Mitzi gave up her campaign of intimidation.
Hero’s weak heart and his old, painful limbs had become an impossible burden. One afternoon, limping into ‘his’ beloved sitting-room he slowly lowered himself on to the floor. The vet was called but amid all the concern for Hero, someone had left the door ajar and Mitzi crept quietly into the room. Her demeanour was no longer that of an aggressor and no-one attempted to stop her determined approach towards Hero. Somehow she sensed that he was very sick and that he was no longer her rival, but her friend. She lay down close to him, and nuzzled into his neck. He was clearly aware of her but he did not object: on the contrary, her presence seemed to offer great comfort.
Mitzi remained at her post as the vet administered the injection that would put Hero to sleep. Eventually, she gave the lifeless animal one last nuzzle then left the room as quietly as she had entered it.
If animals are able to make a change for the better, how much more capable should we be as human beings – God’s personal gift to Himself – to make the changes to our lives that we know we should, and which are achievable if we could only get around to making the necessary effort. We don’t have to do it all on our own. We have only to ask God to help us. While we can never change our past, we can – immediately – start on our journey of change to ensure that we can be different for tomorrow.
As the ‘Good Thief’ happily discovered, as he hung on the cross alongside Jesus on Calvary, it is never too late to change or to repent. When he asked Jesus to ‘remember me in your Kingdom’, Jesus replied with those few but incredibly powerful words: ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.’
It is unlikely that we will ever hear Jesus physically repeat those words to us, but we are justified in believing that for each of us to be with him in Paradise is exactly the reason for which he died on the Cross. It is up to us whether or not we accept his loving, and very personal, invitation.