Christ stilling the waves

The Trumpeteer

Catmoot Chapter 9 Strange Conversations

CHAPTER IX
STRANGE CONVERSATIONS

The Cardinal whose tassels Lizzie was attacking, was a tall brooding man, who did not look amused. “What’s this? a cat, Oh I simply hate the detestable creatures”. “He hates more than cats” said St. Catherine. “Sadly you are so right my sister” said a sorrowful St. Colette. “Shall we make ourselves present to this clerical gathering?”asked St. Bridget, “Not yet!" replied St. Hildegard.

Another Cardinal, who was called Cardinal Boniface, said “Oh cats how simply delightful. If I wasn’t a Cardinal I would run a cat’s home.” “Oh don’t be so ridiculous!” said a very unhappy looking Cardinal, whose name not surprisingly was Cardinal Gloomyface. However Cardinal Gloomyface was more interested in the cats than he realised and seemed very slightly taken with Bushy. “What a bushy looking cat.” “But that is my name!” Cardinal Gloomyface nearly jumped out of his skin. “You can talk?” he said, just managing to regain his composure. “We can all talk” said Freddie, who looked almost put out by, what for him seemed, such an outrageous assumption. “Will you leave me alone you nasty horrible cats?” said the first Cardinal, (He had the name of Maleface, which was most appropriate) who was trying to get, not only Lizzie from playing with his tassels, but Dolly and Lily as well, who were having great fun darting all around him. He was a very tall man, with huge eyebrows, and the most fierce expression. “Can’t you see we are having a private conversation?” Cardinal Maleface continued. “How can you be having a private conversation?” asked Lizzie, “because there are three bishops with you and a whole lot of monsignors.” “She’s quite right?” said Cardinal Boniface. “You are so stupid Boniface. I am amazed that any Pope, bar an imbecile, would have made you a Cardinal.” “Pope Benedict isn’t an imbecile” replied Cardinal Boniface. “Huh” snorted Cardinal Maleface. “How did you know I was a girl?” asked Lizzie looking at Cardinal Boniface with her big almond shaped eyes. “O I know a thing a two about cats, you know.” “Can you sit down on the grass?” Bushy asked Cardinal Boniface. “I think I know why, you naughty boy. You want to sit on my lap, don’t you?” “Exactly” replied this most affectionate of cats, whereupon Cardinal Boniface sat down crosslegged on the ground.
“This is intolerable. Have we all gone mad?” spluttered Cardinal Maleface, in something that looked like the beginning of a rage or a rant. “Your Emminence, you must try and calm down” said a very kindly looking fat (in fact very fat) bishop. “Might I remind you Placid, (for that was the bishop’s name), that I am perfectly calm”. In fact the poor Cardinal was turning black with rage. Meanwhile Cardinal Gloomyface was beginning to positively thaw. He had made friends with Tommy who was licking his hand with great enthusiasm. “Do you want me to sit down, too?” asked Cardinal Gloomyface. “Then” he said,” we will have to go to that tree over there, as I am not as supple as Boniface. This was too much for Cardinal Maleface, who simply erupted and roared, “You blithering idiots, I thought that we were here to discuss the crisis in the Church, and this “bull in a china shop” of a pope we’ve got. The man’s mad.” “Exactly, my view entirely”. These words were spoken by an immaculately turned out handsome young bishop, who knew he was handsome, bright, and was going places. He was the epitome of the ambitious cleric. He was called Bishop Smarmy. "I think that we need somebody like..." “Myself?” suggested Cardinal Maleface. “Hum! yes, but I think that we must be sensible, and tread carefully”. You could see from Bishop Smarmy’s response that he was very much the politician. At that point Bishop Languid, who was not only languid, but very lanky, (He must have been at least six foot five) broke in, “What’s the problem. Popes come and go, the Church just keeps going on its own sweet way.” “The Church is not like a train.” quipped a nervous young priest, who seemed to be rather prissy. This was Monsignor Grey, and he was just that, a very grey bureaucrat, who saw everything as a problem to be efficiently solved. Human beings were something to be avoided, but problems were to be embraced with relish.

“Now before I explode” said Cardinal Maleface “Let us go and sit down on those benches over there, and discuss things in a calm fashion. Are you two going to join us? He said glowering at Cardinals Gloomyface, and Boniface. “Of course we are” said Gloomyface, who was looking so much happier. Boniface got up and carrying Bushy with him went and sat on one of the benches. Cardinal Maleface sat between the other two cardinals, and bishops Smarmy and Languid, who were joined by Bishop Scamp, who kept winking at the cats in a rather unpleasant fashion. They ignored his unpleasant winking, and settled themselves down around the feet of the Cardinals and bishops. Tommy had jumped on to Cardinal Gloomyface’s lap, much to his delight.

Standing in a semicircle in front of the cardinals and bishops were about a dozen or more priests, most of whom were monsignors. The atmosphere was not peaceful. In fact the only person who was peaceful and happy was Cardinal Boniface, and Cardinal Gloomyface was beginning to undergo a conversion at the paws of Tommy, who was in fact pawing him most affectionately.

“I think” said Cardinal Maleface, “We made a mistake at the Conclave, and we chose the wrong man.” “What was wrong with it?” asked Cardinal Boniface, “It seemed most fair and free!” “What did you think Gloomyface?” “It seemed free to me.” Cardinal Gloomyface replied. “That’s precisely the point” Cardinal Maleface quipped, “It seemed. Seem is not the same as the reality.” “I think we were too pressured. It was too quick. Most of the Cardinals were too easily affected by the Latin American group. We Italians were being sidelined.” “Were we?” asked an amazed Boniface. “Anyone who wants to run a cat sanctuary is hardly someone who would know what was going on in a post office, let alone in a conclave. Now Smarmy have you any ideas? Do you know who are the Cardinals who are for or against the Pope?” Bishop Smarmy in a silky voice replied. “I think that many of them are wondering what Pope Francis really believes. His actions and devotional life is very traditional, no more so than in his devotion to Our Lady, but his ambiguous remarks about sexual morality can be taken either as conservative or liberal. Certainly the liberal Cardinals think that the Pope is their man, and I would hazard a guess that 20% of the traditional Cardinals are worried about the Pope’s behaviour.” Cardinal Gloomyface, while stroking his new friend Tommy, said quite forcefully “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. “Thank you Gloomyface for your trite homespun philosophy, hardly what we need when the Church is falling apart. What do you think, Scamp?”. With a very knowing look Bishop Scamp said “If you say to certain Cardinals that you have doubts about the election of the Pope, I am sure that they would follow you.” “My sentiments exactly.” said Maleface who managed a broad and very unpleasant smile. The smile was so unpleasant that Lizzie suddenly jumped to her feet, she had been surveying the scene, and did not like what she was seeing.

“Your Emminence, what do you mean by these rebellious words?” “How dare you speak to me in such a manner, you snivelling little cat.” said the Cardinal glaring at her. “Might I remind your eminence as cats go, I am not small, I am rather on the plump size, and I do not snivel, that is something that human beings do.” “Now I am small!” said Lily and jumped up onto the Cardinal’s lap. “Oh get away, you nasty little cat.” “She’s not nasty” said Dolly, “She may be a little bit of a goat, and grumpy at times, but she has a heart of gold.”

“I can see that I am getting nowhere with reason and logic. If my fellow Cardinals here are besotted with cats, what hope is there for the Church, which is cracking up?” announced Maleface. “What utter rubbish!” said Molly “The Church cannot crack up. It will be here until the end of Time. Surely you should know that, you who are a Prince of the Church.” Before an angry Maleface could reply, Bishop Scamp said very sarcastically “And what would a silly little pussy like you know about such things?” “More than you might realize. If you knew your theology, you would know, that though, we like you humans have been affected by the Fall, you can sin, and we cannot.” Bishop Scamp with another dose of sarcasm said “You might not be able to sin, but you can’t think.”

“Now Molly my dear we are getting nowhere here. There’s none so blind, as those who don’t want to see.” Said Lizzie. “Obviously the homespun philosophers are to be found among cats as well as humans.” Cardinal Maleface said, his nose defiantly in the air. “These men are a pretty dreadful lot.” whispered Freddie to Sammy, “They seem very grey and dull to me.” replied Sammy. “I think that we need to sing something to cheer them up.”

Jumping up Sammy said to Lizzie, “These lot, for the most part, need cheering them up, don’t you think? They are all too churchy for their own good.” “Yes I think that is a splendid idea. I just wish the other animals were here. There are just too few of us.” said Lizzie. No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the semi circle was full of animals. Not only was there Hans, Beppe, Methuselah, Lorenzo, and Grigio, but two more bears. “Goodness gracious me, and who are these?” exclaimed Lizzie. “I really don’t know said Hans.”

“Let me introduce these two new friends”, and there was St. Colette smiling her lovely smile. They are the bears of two great saints St Sergius and St. Seraphim. They are Russian bears.” “Then we will have a wonderful time dancing” said Molly, clapping her hands with delight. Colette introduced Vasily and Yuri. “Vasily is St. Sergius’, bear, and Yuri is St. Seraphim’s.” At this Bishop Scamp said sarcastically (He simply could not help being sarcastic) “I wouldn’t wonder if we end up with St. Francis of Paola’s donkey”. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than there indeed was the fabled donkey. “Oh St. Colette this is wonderful. Can your lamb join us?” said Dolly with great excitement. “Of course” said Colette laughing, and then disappeared from the sight of the humans. The next moment the saint held in her arms a beautiful white lamb, so white that it was almost blindingly white. The cardinals, bishops, and monsignors were puzzled, because they could not see St. Colette. They just saw this lamb suspended in the air. “What a lovely lamb” said Yuri. St. Colette said “Would you like to hold it?” “Oh, Yes that would be so good.” said the bear. The humans looked on in utter amazement as the lamb moved through the air, obviously not of its own volition, as St. Colette handed it to Yuri.

“Now let the dance begin” sang St. Colette, and there beside her were Sts. Catherine, Bridget and Hildegard. The cats then did one of their favourite Gilbert and Sullivan numbers “Thank you, gallant gondolier”, but changed the words to suit the occasion.
Tommy and Bushy jumped off the cardinals’ laps, and with the other cats all stood on their hind legs, and began a slow and measured dance, while they sung this song, all the time weaving in between the three bears who holding eachothers' right paws rotated with exquisite dignity while the dog, and the wolf ran in a ring around the dancers. The donkey looked on with a somewhat puzzled look. Beppe jumped up on to the donkey’s back, and Methuselah croaked his way through the lyrics, while flying above the dancers in sort of zigzagging way. One would think that the raven would have ruined the whole song, with his quite ugly croaking voice, but amazingly his voice sounded almost beautiful, possibly because his voice was covered by the sonorous bass voices of the Russian bears.

Thank you, doubting cardinali!
In a set and formal measure
It is scarcely necessary
To express our pleasure.
Each of us may prove a treasure,
In a Church so planetary,
Gladly will devote our leisure,
Fierce and gentle Cardinali.
Tra, la, la, la, la, la,

The tune was so infectious and the dancing so elegant, but energetic, that Cardinals Boniface and Gloomyface could resist no longer, and joined in the dancing, and Bishop Placid could not restrain himself either, and he joined the dance too. Despite his great girth, he was almost the most elegant dancer of the lot, only surpassed by Sammy. So the song continued, with the rest of the clergy looking on either puzzled, suspicious, irritated, embarrassed, or downright angry, and no-one was more angry than Cardinal Maleface, who realized that there were two cardinals and one bishop whom he could not rely on to see his plans achieved.

Dull and gloomy episcopacy,
Try to lose your antipathy
To a grace extraordinary;
We might all seem quite unsightly!
If we judge your conduct rightly,
Twas a gift involuntary,
Still we thank you most politely,
Dull and gloomy episcopacy!
Tra, la, la, la, la, la, etc

Suddenly the song was interrupted by a purring Italian voice. “Oh this is so wonderful. So beautiful, so radiant, so beneficent.” It was of course Contessina, but the other cats belonging to Pope Benedict were also with her, scampering among the dancers who came to a sudden abrupt halt. “Oh it is as good as Donizetti, and Rossini. I well remember what the great Igor Stravinsky said of Gilbert and Sullivan. Of course it was the great Diaghilev who introduced Stravinsky to their operas. He likened them to Strauss and Hofmannsthal. Oh isn’t Richard Strauss so divine, he could almost be Italian. I think he is a sort of German Puccini.” The dancers and singers looked on with amusement, and the clergy with utter shock.

There was no stopping Contessina. “Well in 1968” she continued, “ Stravinsky gave an interview in the New York Times, and this is what he said: ‘The British team is never boring. The operas gallop along like happy colts, not like cart horses’ He is so right” cried Contessina, her forepaws extended dramatically above her shoulders. ”‘Die Fledermaus’ and ‘The Merry Widow’ have adultery in them. Not good, no not good at all; Oh such a shame!” With that Contessina then suddenly launched into a rendition of ‘Vilja’ from ‘The Merry Widow’. “Do you think her voice is going?” whispered Molly to her Sister, when Contessina finally drew the aria to a melodramatic close. “Well if it isn’t, she’s got a dreadful wobble.” said Lizzie “Now where was I?” said Contessina. “Ah yes. The great composer continues thus. ‘They are also moral. The characters are good and bad, and the moral is always clearly drawn, although I do not overlook the sophistication of satire. They remind me of American Western films or plays when these are of top-notch quality. While they depend on conventions, their attack on conventions is always progressive. This is undoubtedly one of the major reasons for the continued popularity of the operas.’ “Oh the great Stravinsky. Oh how I love ‘Petrushka’, and ‘The Firebird’ . “Oh the Russians they are the greatest people in the world. If I was not an Italian cat, I would be a Russian cat.” By now Contessina was overcome with emotion, and began weeping copiously. “Would you like my hanky?” Dolly enquired. “Oh how sweet, how kind of you” replied Contessina. Obviously she had had rather too exciting a day. She was a somewhat highly strung cat to say the least. “You know” said Dolly “Bushy is half Siberian forest cat.” “Is he now? Ah how wonderful!” However before Dolly could tell Contessina that there were two Russian bears, which no doubt would have reduced Contessina to paroxysms of delight, Lizzie said. “Now, now, we must finish the song, because if we do not, the clergy here may miss the pearls that we cast before them”. She then winked knowingly at all the performers.

The clergy, who had refused to join the dance, were, it would seem, psychologically pulverised. They looked on, even more dumbstruck, than President Obama’s entourage, which is saying something. “Now Contessina” said Lizzie, “I am sure your balletic achievements cast ours entirely into the shade. Will you lead the dancing?”. Contessina with no trace of mock modesty said “I would be absolutely delighted”. Now up until the third verse of the song, all the other animals were singing the orchestral parts as best they could, but suddenly as if from nowhere an orchestra was heard, and there hovering above the assembly was ‘The Halcyon’ and there was a whole orchestra of angels playing Sullivan’s music as it had never been played before; being angels they did not, of course, need a conductor. Over the orchestra Lizzie could be heard shouting “Let’s do the final verse outside the monastery. I know that Pope Benedict would love it. In a sort of sleep walking daze, the clergy were impelled to follow the singers and dancers. Meanwhile, the orchestra, to fill in the time it took to get to the monastery, played the overture to the opera, as the Halcyon gently followed the dancers. In no time everyone was standing outside the door of Pope Benedict’s residence. Contessina tip toed very daintily up to the front door, opened it and said “Your holiness, we have a surprise for you.” Pope Benedict came to the doorway, and his eyes lit up with sheer delight, as our performers launched into the final verse:

Thank you doleful monsignori
In a set and formal measure,
It is scarcely necessary
To express our pleasure.
All of us to give a treasure
Gladly will devote our leisure,
Sad and doleful monsignori!
Tra, la, la, la, la, la, etc.

God in this has put his finger ---
Let us bow to God’s decree,
Then no longer, let us linger,
To the Curia hurry we!

"Bravo, Bravo" cried Pope Benedict, he was joined by the sisters and Archbishop Ganswein with more Bravos and then lots of cries of ‘Encore’. The bears who were surprisingly good dancers rushed over to the Pope and his entourage, and dragged them into the dance, which had formed a large circle around the deflated clerics, who looked horrified. Beppe immediately jumped off the donkey and Hans gently picked up Pope Benedict and sat him side-saddle on the donkey so that he too could join in the dance. There was no ‘Bella Figura’ here, just wonderful innocence and fun, and that necessary poking fun, which can do wonders for most priests' humility, as too often they take themselves far too seriously. Above the dancers and the clergy the angels played blissfully on, the music sounding almost mystically amusing, but the majority of the clergy were not amused, and as the final strains of music died away, Cardinal Maleface took off his skull cap, in anger threw it to the ground, and tore open his soutane, rather like Caiaphas tearing his robes when he accused Christ of blasphemy. Then uttering the most weird noises and foaming at the mouth, he rushed off towards the main Vatican buildings, followed by all the monsignors, with the exception of Monsignor Grey. Three other priests also remained in the middle of the dancers and singers. They all looked as if they had emerged from a nightmare. They were tired but relieved; Monsignor Grey then said “I think we have all been enchanted.” “You have indeed” said a voice, and there was St. Colette with her three heavenly companions, who had been keeping the dancers in rhythm all the time, though they had not been dancing . “You have been bewitched by power and ambition, but now the spell is broken” said St. Catherine. “We now “ said St. Bridget “ have to go and see Pope Francis, who really does need our help.”, “ and our wise advice” chuckled St. Hildegard. “Who would ever have thought that St. Hildegard would have such a sense of humour ?” said Freddie. “We Germans do have senses of humour too, you know” said Archbishop George with a broad grin. “Oh I don’t doubt it” replied Freddie, “but she is such an awe inspiring saint”. “I know what you mean” said Pope Benedict with his gentle and wise smile.

“All aboard” sang the angels in perfect harmony, “We have to go and see Pope Francis, and Our Lord Jesus Christ says he wants you all to come, and so your Holiness that means you too.” Everyone realised that the voice was that of Archangel Michael, and there was no gainsaying him. The Halcyon gently landed on the ground, and Pope Benedict, still riding the donkey and followed by everyone else, got in. Cardinal Gloomyface was so happy that the cats wondered how he could continue with such an inappropriate name, however before they were left wondering any longer, St. Michael said to the very happy Cardinal. “You have shown your true worth, or perhaps the cats have converted you, and so from now on you will be called Cardinal Goodfellow. When everyone was on board, the angelic captain asked, “What’s our destination?” St.Michael replied "The meeting between the Pope and ‘The International Organization for the mutual understanding of atheistic scientists, pagan scientists, and Christian scientists, for the improvement of the Planet’s ecological, social, and philosophical interaction’. “Has The Vatican gone mad?” asked Bushy his eyes nearly popping out of his head. “No” said St. Catherine “but a very large section of the Church has, and its been going on for far too long. It is time to stop the nonsense.” With a stern look in her eyes, the saint looked at the Dome of St. Peter’s, as the Halcyon rose into the air, and then her expression softened, “The Church crushed me, and it is crushing so many good people again today.” Her eyes flooded with tears at the thought of so much sin and evil. She was about to brush aside her tears with her hand, when a little voice said “Would you like my hankie?” “Oh Dolly, how kind of you. You cats are so thoughtful”

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