Today, 14 Jul 2012, is the feast day of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. In a few short weeks on 21 Oct 2012 she will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. Because of her youthful fidelity to Jesus Christ despite persecution by her peers she has been consistently named as one of the patron Saints of World Youth Day. Over the years since her beatification in 1980 I’ve found that the more I have learned about Blessed Kateri the more I have been impressed by her holiness.
The evangelisation of North America was still young when Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 near modern day New York. Her mother belonged to the Algonquin tribe and had become a fervent Christian prior to being captured in a raid by the Iroquois tribe. Treated like a slave, Kateri’s mother was married to an Iroquois man. Due to the anti-Christian sentiment among the Iroquois, Kateri’s mother did not dare baptise her two children. In 1660 an outbreak of smallpox devastated the community where Kateri lived. Kateri was the only one of her family that survived the smallpox, but it left her weakened, with facial scars from the smallpox and with reduced eye-sight.
Young orphaned Kateri was adopted by an uncle who was very against any hint of Christianity. The extent of the scarring on her face led Kateri to often wear a blanket over her head and to keep to herself a lot. Kateri’s first exposure to Christianity was through missionary priests who came to talk about a peace deal with the tribe in 1667. Intrigued, she attended the catechism classes they provided and drank it all in. Even before she truly started learning about Jesus and Mary she had an inate sense that marriage was not for her, and shank away from any of the activities considered normal for young women seeking husbands.
Another opportunity to learn about Jesus came in 1674 via Fr Jacques de Lamberville. This time Kateri had enough desire to learn more, to combat the fear of reprisals from her aunt and uncle. So ardently did Kateri respond to the good news of the salvific love of Jesus that she was permitted to be baptised much sooner than other candidates. Due to the animosity surrounding the missionaries it was necessary at that time to have a much longer instructional period than usual, because the risk of apostasy was real. The day of Kateri’s longed for baptism came on Easter Sunday 1676, and the joy was tempered by the ridicule and contempt with which the tribe treated her because of her commitment to God. Bravely she took the holy day of Sunday seriously and all of the other things that set Christians apart, enduring people laughing at her, throwing stones and calling her lazy. Things got so bad that Kateri had to leave and seek a new home at the end of a 200 mile journey at the Sault St Louis mission in Canada.
At the new mission Kateri had the happiness of receiving her First Holy Communion on Christmas Day 1677. This marked the start of rapid growth in her spiritual life. She carried her rosary beads with her at all times. She woke up early, so as to be waiting for the chapel to open for the first Mass of the day, and remained there until the last Mass was said. Contemplating the Passion of Jesus with love led her to embrace a life filled with mortifications and of generous service to the sick, to the old, and to the youngsters who needed help learning the catechism. Wanting to belong only to Jesus, Kateri made vows of perpetual virginity on the feast of the Annunciation in 1679.
The precarious health Kateri had always had, now slowly started to deteriorate. This deterioration was hastened somewhat by her penances. On the Wednesday of Holy Week in 1680, Jesus called Kateri home to be with Him forever in eternal happiness. To show how beautiful she was in His eyes, Jesus caused a miracle to occur at her death – the removal from her face of all the ravages of smallpox. Not surprisingly there have been many miracles attributed to Kateri’s intercession.
To read more detail about her holy life go to http://www.kateritekakwitha.org/kateri/
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.