Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Last Saturday at the 5:15 p.m. Mass at St John the Evangelist Cathedral, members of the Congregation of the Great Spirit joined Cathedral parishioners to give thanks to God for the new American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American woman to be so honored, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 21, 2012.
The Liturgy began with a reading of a short biography, “Lily of the Mohawks.” A few years after her birth in 1656, her parents and brother died from a smallpox epidemic. Although she survived, her face was left permanently scarred and her eyesight damaged. Tekakwitha means “one who bumps into things,” a probable reference to her poor eyesight.
She was raised by an uncle, but she never forgot her parents’ Christian faith despite the fact that her relatives did not allow her to study or practice Catholicism. When she was 20, the Jesuits began to catechize the people. Kateri learned as much as she could about the faith and was baptized on Easter Sunday in 1676.
She suffered great persecution by members of her tribe and so she fled her village and escaped to Canada. There, at the mission, she was an example of unfailing gentleness, humility, kindness and good humor, which won the hearts of the people. The Eucharist, rosary and the contemplation of Jesus’ passion, was her devotional life.
She made a perpetual vow of virginity, giving herself totally to Christ. Kateri stated, “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 was only 24 years old when she died, and it is reported that all the scars that marred her face disappeared, when she took her last breath. Her outward beauty was a sign of her inward purity. Her last words were, “Jesus, I love you.”
The Congregation of the Great Spirit engaged the faithful in the ritual practices associated with liturgical celebration in Native American worship. Majestic drumming and chanting filled the Cathedral. Father Ed Cook, pastor of the Congregation of the Great Spirit, explained the symbolic gestures and the reverential respect for our God-given creation. The pride that the Native American community felt was evident.
Our nation has not always treated our Native American community with the respect and honor they deserve. However, there is no denying the recognition of holiness in the life of this young woman who stands as an example for all Americans through her struggle to live fully the faith.
I was present on June 22, 1980 in Rome when Pope John Paul II beatified Kateri. At that time he said, “Her beatification should remind us that we are all called to a life of holiness, for in baptism, God has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence.’ (Eph.1-4). Holiness of life, union with Christ through prayer and works of charity, is not something reserved to a select few among the members of the Church. It is the vocation of everyone. My brothers and sisters, may you be inspired and encouraged by the life of Blessed Kateri. Look to her for an example of fidelity; see in her a model of purity and love; turn to her in prayer of assistance. May God bless you as He blessed her.”
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, help us to follow Jesus and to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the October 30, 2012 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.