There is an expression that says, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. In the middle of the 17th century nine years after the Jesuits Isaac Jogues and John de Brebeuf were tomahawked by Iroquois warriors, a baby girl was born near the place of their martyrdom, that place is now known as Auriesville, in upstate New York.
That baby girl would one day be known as St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Her feast day was celebrated on Friday July 14th. Kateri’s mother was a Christian Algonquin, taken captive by the Iroquois and given as wife to the chief of the Mohawk clan. The Mohawks were the boldest and fiercest warriors of the Five Nations of Native Americans. Kateri’s mom taught her children the prayers and the basics of the Catholic faith. When she was 14 a small pox epidemic swept through her village, many people died including her entire family. Kateri was very sick and after recovering her face was left disfigured with pock marks and she was left half blind from the disease. She was adopted by an uncle who succeeded her father as chief.
When Kateri was 19 the Jesuits (black robes) finally made their way to her village. They were amazed to find a young woman among the Mohawks who knew about Jesus and the Catholic faith. Kateri remembered and practiced all that she had been taught, very impressive for the culture in which she lived. She loved Jesus and wanted to learn more.
Her uncle and many of the Mohawks hated the coming of the Black robes – Jesuit missionaries- but they could do nothing to them because of a peace treaty with the French that allowed their presence in the villages with native Christian captives. Kateri was moved by the words of the Black robes and she soon got up the courage to ask for baptism. On Easter Sunday when she was 19 she was baptized and given the name of Catherine, Kateri in her language. With her baptism and refusal to take a husband, life got very hard for her. She was treated as a slave and because she would not work on Sunday, she received no food on that day. But even with these difficulties her life in grace grew rapidly. She told a missionary that she often meditated on the great dignity of being baptized and was powerfully moved by God’s love for human beings and saw the dignity of each of her people, even though they treated her terribly.
Because of her conversion Kateri was in great danger. At times stones were thrown at her and she was beaten with sticks. To get away from the abuse each day, she would go into the woods to pray before a cross she had made out of twigs. Eventually Kateri escaped to a Christian village near Montreal. And it was 200 miles of walking to get there. In that village her faith bloomed. She made her first communion and made a private vow of virginity. Kateri lived a simple life of prayer and charity caring for the sick and the orphans. Every day she went to the chapel to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The chapel opened at 4:00am and she was always the first one there. It’s said that during adoration her face would take on an almost angelic glow. It was very powerful, so powerful, that people would come to the church just to watch her pray. She inspired many people with her devotion and her penitential practices and her charity in caring for the sick, aged, and orphaned. Their faith was strengthened by her example.
So what about us? Is the faith of others, the faith of those around us, strengthened and edified by our example? The majority of us in the pews this Sunday don’t need to worry about being the “seed on the path” or the “seed on the shallow soil.” if we were that kind of seed, we probably wouldn’t still be coming to Mass. I think that the majority of us need to watch out for the third type of soil: “some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.” Our Lord tells us that the seed among the thorns does not die, it just becomes unfruitful. In the same way we may show up for Mass on Sunday but the rest of the week is lived disconnected from Sunday. We might be getting caught up in the distractions of American culture. Spiritual writers will say that the greatest threat to Christians in Western countries is the constant allure of a culture of comfort and ease, where Christians are more concerned about their 401k than about eternal life. Is there evidence that we are living this life with the Next Life in view?
St. Kateri, every day, spent some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the practice kept her fruitful. That’s probably not possible for everyone, but I would challenge everyone, to at some point this week make a visit to a Church. Sit before our Lord present in the Tabernacle. Maybe even mediate on the following:
O my beloved Jesus, I am happy to be in Thy presence. Thy psalmist said it: “To be near God is my happiness.” There are no words to describe what it is to have Thee – God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God – so close.
Thou art hidden, but I see Thee.
Thou art silent, but I hear Thee.
Thou art immobile, but Thou reachest out to draw me in and hold me against Thy Heart.
One, who possesses Thee in the Sacrament of Thy love, possesses everything.
Because Thou art here, I lack nothing.
Because Thou art here, I have nothing to fear.
Because Thou art here, I cannot be lonely.
Because Thou art here, heaven itself is here and myriads of angels adoring Thee and offering Thee their songs of praise.
Because Thou art here, I need not search for Thee anywhere else.
Because Thou art here, my faith possesses Thee, my hope is anchored to Thee, my love embraces Thee and will not let Thee go.
Bring our Lord your stress, your anxieties, your problems, and then in silence, listen. Let Him till the soil of your heart, let Him pull the weeds and thorns choking your heart. To sit before the Eucharistic Face of our Lord is to become ever more fruitful.
St. Kateri died at the age of 24 and the last words out of her mouth were, “Jesus, I love you.” These were also her first words the moment she stepped into eternity, “Jesus I love you.” May these words always be ours as well, seven days a week, bearing fruit a hundredfold.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley