On a recent trip to Scotland Bishop Gilbert of Aberdeen asked me whether I was familiar with the Scottish writer George Mackay Brown. I had to confess that I had never heard of him. A few days later I was rummaging through second-hand book stores searching for everything and anything by Mackay Brown.
Bishop Gilbert had got me hooked by suggesting I read Mackay Brown’s essay “The Treading of Grapes,” which takes the form of three homilies on the Wedding Feast of Cana. One is delivered in 1788 by a classically Calvinist Presbyterian minister, down on every kind of human enjoyment from wine to party dresses. He uses the story of Cana to berate his flock about spending too much money on their wives’ wardrobes, and drinking too much at weddings. He compared their enjoyment of ale to piglets sucking on the teats of a sow.
The second homily is delivered in the 20th century by a modern liberal Protestant minister, who uses the homily to explain that Jesus didn’t really turn water into wine. There was no miracle. Jesus was simply a good organizer who saw to it behind the scenes that supplies were sufficient.
Finally, one is treated to a homily by a Catholic priest delivered in 1548. Rather than berating people as piglets, or denying the reality of miracles, the priest tells his congregation that at the wedding feast of the Lamb they will all be princes. Therefore, he says, I will call you Olaf the Fisherman and Jock the Crofter no longer, but I will call you by the name the Creator will call you on the last day—princes! Prince Olaf! Prince Jock!, et cetera.
Because of her interest in Pope Benedict, she knows how he likes cats (he met the Oratorian cat in Birmingham during his 2010 visit to England and Scotland) and so she noted the popularity of the Pluscarden Abbey cat:
An unanticipated surprise was my discovery of Baxter, the monastery cat, who is named after the soup factory in the nearby town. He is famous. Baxter memorabilia brings in more money at the gift shop than sales of any other item, including Rosary beads, books, soap, and medicinal products. Baxter cards, calendars, and coffee-table booklets outsell everything. He is at his best with the many families who visit during the summer months. He meets and greets and plays with the children. Even though he has only half a tail, he is not shy or self-conscious.
I was pleased to hear that the monastery had a pro-cat policy. I said that I thought Pope Benedict would strongly approve, and I was told that Pope Benedict knows about Baxter.
Pluscarden's on-line gift shop isn't open now, but you can see a photo of Baxter on the 2016 calendar (May). I'm not going to get a cat (can't breath around one) but I guess I'd better get some books by George Mackay Brown!