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Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily on Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American Saint, during the canonization ceremony, October 21, 2012
“Kateri Tekakwitha was born in today’s New York state in sixteen fifty-six to a Mohawk father and a Christian Algonquin mother who gave to her a sense of the living God. She was baptized at twenty years of age and, to escape persecution, she took refuge in Saint Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal.
There she worked, faithful to the traditions of her people, although renouncing their religious convictions until her death at the age of twenty-four. Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. She lived a life radiant with faith
Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture. In her, faith and culture enrich each other! May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are.
Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first native American saint, we Entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America!
May God bless the first nations!”
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: She died as she lived, as a ‘Saint’
She died as she lived, ‘as a Saint’. The ‘Cross’ of ‘Jesus Christ’ was the focus of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’s life, of her journey with God and to God.
For myself, after having read and reflected upon her life, the scripture that best describes St-Kateri Tekakwitha is in Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world.”
Yes, St-Kateri was very focused in her desire and her zeal to be holy; her short-lived life showed it, her death showed it and her many miracles prove it. She has been and will be a great model for people striving to become saints. I, for one will certainly be invoking her help in my walk on the ‘narrow road’.
I did not know about Blessed Kateri until my friend, ‘Rose Nadeau’, suggested me as a speaker for a ‘Kateri Day’ conference. While pursuing my research on Blessed Kateri I was deeply touched by this ‘Lily of the Mohawks’, this ‘Lily Among Thorns’. Her profound seriousness in the living out of her new Catholic faith deeply moved me.
On the day of her Canonization, October 21, 2012, I was privileged to join a group of pilgrims who attended a Mass of celebration of the ‘Canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’ at the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine (Mission Saint Francois-Xavier) at Kahnawake, near Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
I felt so blessed and was so thankful to God for taking me there, where Saint Kateri spent the last years of her short life and where she walked and prayed and lived her holy life. I later visited the museum and prayed at her tomb located in the church asking her to help me ‘strive for Heaven’.
Her Life of Prayer
In season and out of season, ‘prayer’ was part and parcel of all of Kateri’s life. In his book, ‘A Lily Among The Thorns’ Darren Bonaparte states:
“The Christians observed her exactitude in obeying the rules of life which the priest prescribed; that is to say, to go every day to prayer morning and evening and every Sunday to assist at Mass, and (naming what she must avoid) not to assist at the “dream feasts,” nor at dances nor at other gatherings among the savages which were contrary to purity; nor yet at the liquor debauches of the heathens.” ( Bonaparte, Darren., “A Lily Among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Kateri Tekahkwi:tha.”, The Wampum Chronicles, 2009, p. 136.)
Kateri was a powerful ‘role model’ for prayer. As Matthew and Margaret Bunson shared, She was likewise a powerful model for prayer and the priests who wrote about her life went into great detail about her commitment to prayer and contemplation of God and the Eucharist. (cf: Bunson, Matthew and Margaret, “Saint Kateri: Lily of the Mohawks”, Our Sunday Visitor. p. 24)
Her Love For the Rosary and Her Devotion To Mary
Matthew Bunson describes her love of the rosary and devotion to Mary in this way: “She always had the rosary with her. She walked always with a rosary in her hand so as not to allow her time going about the camp to be spent outside of some form of prayer.
Kateri had a great devotion to our Blessed Mother, she carefully observed her Feast Days and looked up to Mary as a model of commitment to chastity.” (p192-194)
Saint Kateri knew her priorities as a Christian, she was so focused, so in love with Jesus and Mary. As Fr. Chauchetiere relates: “There were only two places in the world to which she went, her lodge and the church.” (p135)
Her Inner Dispositions Towards God
Fr. Pierre Cholenec, S.J., who knew St-Kateri well, describes her inner dispositions, her utmost sincerity and humility before God: He states and I find it so precious to read:
“Every morning, winter and summer, she was in our church at four o’clock, and often she arrived even before the bell which rings every day at that hour. She remained there several hours in succession in prayer, though her tongue played small part in it. Ordinarily, she prayed only with eyes and heart—her eyes suffused with tears, and her heart incessantly giving forth ardent sighs. She was always as if lifted out of herself when she prayed and conversed with our Lord.
Her fervour was no less evident in the confessions which she made every eight days or sometimes oftener. She passed an entire hour in the church weeping and sighing while she prepared herself, and when she began her confession it was always with such loud sobs that she would have given her confessor much difficulty in understanding her, had he not otherwise known her angelical innocence. She thought herself the greatest sinner in the world. It was with such sentiments of humility that she made all her confessions.” (Bunson, p. 151)
Kateri understood very well the concept of ‘co-redemptive suffering’. When she went to church to pray, “She remained there so many hours (emphasis mine) on her knees in the coldest winter weather, that more than once priests or someone else, moved with compassion at the sight of her half-frozen condition, obliged her to leave the chapel.”
(cf: www.alleluiaaudiobooks.com/st-kateri-tekakwitha-NoahMoerbeek, Nov 5, 2012 biography/)
Also Fr. Cholenec gives witness to this aspect of her life of suffering. He said: “During the last two months of her life her sufferings were extraordinary. She was obliged to remain night and day in the same position. The very least movement caused her the most intense pain, but when these pains were at their worst, she seemed most content, esteeming herself happy, as she herself said, to live and to die on the cross, uniting her suffering to those of the Savior.”. (Bunson, p. 178)
Persecution did not sway her away from her great devotion to Jesus and Mary. Fr Cholonec, writing in 1715 describes the abuses she suffered for her devout faith-filled lifestyle: “Whenever she went to the chapel thay caused her to be followed with showers of stones cast by drunken people, or those who feigned to be so, so that, to avoid their insults, she was obliged to take the most circuitous paths.” (Bonaparte, p. 138)
It was this steady flow of persecution that prompted Father James de Lamberville to have Kateri move up north to Canada and join the Mohawk Christian settlement at Sault Saint Francis Xavier at Kahnawake, near Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was here that she lived the last short years of her life in a Christian community. It was here that she also took her vows to live as a ‘Bride of Christ’.
The Bride of Christ
“On March 25, 1679, Kateri Tekakwitha vowed to live as a Bride of Christ, as a virgin forever. She was seen kneeling motionless and oblivious to everything else when she had received the vow. Also that solemn commitment set the seal upon her life, and many suspected she would not remain on earth much longer.” (cf: www.blackandindianmission.org/kateri-tekakwitha/)
Kateri ‘Strove for Heaven’
Kateri is a great model of someone who intensely ‘strived for Heaven’. Matthew Bunson related: “For Kateri, the life eternal became paramount to her, and she was concerned solely with perfecting herself in preparation for it and making herself worthy.” (p. 164)
Even her best friend Anastasia would say that Kateri’s manner of action showed that she never lost sight of God. (p. 165)
Also it was Fr. Cholenec who said that once Kateri had taken the vow to be ‘Bride of Christ’, she seemed to be entirely divorced from the ways of this world. Her attentions were focused exclusively to the anticipation of Heaven! (p. 175)
She Died a Holy Death
When the Lord took her home, she died as she had lived, she died a Holy death. It was Father Martin, kneeling nearby reciting the prayers for the dying, who heard these words of the saint to her friend. In his account of this scene, after her last words to Therese, Saint Kateri covered her crucifix with kisses and tears and cried out three times:
Jesus, I Love Thee.
Thus died Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, on Wednesday, April 17, 1680, only 24 years old. A quarter of an hour after her death, her face, which had been scarred from the smallpox she had in her youth, changed all at once, removing the scars and becoming beautiful to the amazement of the Priests and the Indians.” (cf:www.alleluiaaudiobooks.com/st-kateri-tekakwitha-NoahMoerbeek, Nov 5, 2012)
There is so much more I could write about this extraordinary saint, who so loved the ‘Cross of Jesus Christ’ and who so loved to pray.
If you have a sincere desire to be holy, to become a ‘saint’, then, I invite you to read some of the books I have listed here below and watch some videos, and journey with our new saint, ‘Saint Kateri Tekakwitha’. It will be the best investment of your time, ever.
Excellent Books and Videos on the “Life of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha”
Bunson, Matthew and Margaret, “Saint Kateri. Lily of the Mohawks”, Our Sunday Visitor, 2012.
Bonaparte, Darren, “A Lily Among The Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Kateri Tekakwitha”, Wampum Chronicles, 2009.
The Life and Times of Kateri Tekakwitha, The Lily of the Mohawks, by Ellen H. Walworth, 1656-1680, Buffal; P.Paul, 1891. Note: this book can be acquired as an E-book at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/37421/37421-h/37421-h.htm
www.alleluiaaudiobooks.com/st-kateri-tekakwitha-NoahMoerbeek, Nov 5, 2012 .
Per Donald Andre Bruneau, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Dec 3, 2012.