Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
July 14th, 2018
July 14th, 2018
Is. 6:1-8 Mt. 10:24-33
Today we celebrate the life and witness of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks, and our sister in Jesus Christ. We see in her a beautiful testament to the truth that the Son of God came to save the people of all nations and to bring them together as one people, as brothers and sisters of our Father in Heaven.
There are some who see her as a sign of the conflict between the Church and the native people of this country; some worry that she can be used as a symbol to convince native people to abandon their traditions and culture. But even from the time of her death she was always known as a Mohawk, as a daughter of her people; even in the earliest image we have of her, painted ten years after her death, she is wearing the beaded moccasins of her people.
She kept much of the outward signs of her Mohawk heritage; but what of her Mohawk heart? Did she abandon the beliefs of her people in favor of Christianity? I would say no. Her conversion is not the conversion of a person who was convinced by an argument, but rather of someone who encountered the God in whom she already believed in an entirely new way: she came to know a God she could fall in love with, and realized that this same God already loved her more than she could ever have imagined. Kateri came to love God so much that her final words were, “Jesus, Mary, I love you.”
When she was four years old she lost her parents to smallpox, a disease that almost took her own life as well but instead left her scarred and mostly blind. Her uncle, the chief of a nearby clan, took her in and raised her. It wasn’t until she was nineteen that she was baptized, after years of her uncle forbidding her to study Christianity. Yet ever since she was eleven years old she was attracted to the faith; something about it spoke to her, and we might suspect that it had something to do with the scarred man on the wooden cross: a God that knew suffering and abandonment like she did.
|Kateri watches over SFM dental clinic|
Her family constantly pressured her to marry and to take on the traditional roles of a young Mohawk woman, but her heart wasn’t in it: she didn’t desire to marry, and this was before her conversion. A few years after her baptism, however, we see in her words the fruit of a relationship with God that had existed throughout her life, but had in recent years deepened and matured radically:
“I have deliberated enough. For a long time my decision on what I will do has been made. I have consecrated myself entirely to Jesus, son of Mary, I have chosen Him for husband and He alone will take me for wife.”
She had always worshipped God, at least as she had understood God. She understood her place as a creation of a Creator, a creature in a world that was made with a sacred order. Kateri could never have guessed that this Creator could also one day become the Father she had lost in her childhood, that He had a Son who could satisfy the deepest longings of her heart and understand her suffering and loneliness in a way no one on earth could: she could never have guessed that His own Mother—the Blessed Virgin—would become her Mother. In God she had found everything she desired in her heart of hearts; she came to see a God that not only was to be worshipped and thanked, but loved and served.
This nearly-blind girl now saw God more clearly than she ever had, and with this new love filling her heart she began to live as a disciple of Jesus her Teacher, as a servant of her gentle Master. As Jesus demands of us in our Gospel today, she endeavored in all things to become more like Him, fearing not nothing in this world that might cause her harm or difficulty. She feared only what could kill her growing soul, what could turn her away from God, and so she lived a life of prayer and penance. The prayer practices of her people, such as piercing her flesh with thorns as a prayer sacrifice for those in need, or in thanksgiving to God for a favor she’d received, were not entirely abandoned, but given their fullest meaning. Even the meaning of her suffering was transformed as it drew her closer to Jesus who had suffered for her, the Jesus whose own Body, like hers, was covered in scars.
Through her words and deeds Kateri spoke in the light what God had spoken to her in the private darkness of her heart: she became a light to her people, and even to the Jesuits in her village. When she realized that she could no longer live among her people, as their frustration with her had become too great, she fearlessly journeyed through the wilderness to Canada to live with other native Christians, knowing that just as a sparrow does not fall to the ground without our Father’s knowledge, she, too, was looked after: every strand of her dark hair was counted.
|Base of the statue|
Because she acknowledged Jesus before others we know that Jesus acknowledged her before our heavenly Father: she would not be a saint of the Church if it were otherwise. Now she beholds the angels swarming about the throne of God and joins in singing their prayer-song—“Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Hosts…”—a song which we sing or recite with her at every Mass.
Kateri, the Mohawk girl who heard the call of God in her heart and said, “Here I am!” Kateri, who once covered her head with a blanket to hide her scars and now is more glorious than even the greatest angels because she is redeemed by the Son of God. Kateri, our blind sister who saw the path to God and invites us to follow her in the footsteps of Jesus. Kateri Tekakwitha: a daughter of her people, a daughter of God and of Mary, a daughter of the Catholic Church, our sister and our friend.
St. Kateri, pray for us.