Memorial of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin
Our Church celebrates the first Native American saint, St. Kateri Tekakwitha. She has a special place in the hearts of Jesuits because she befriended Jesuits at one of the missionary outposts in modern day Canada. She impressed the Jesuits with her piety, generosity towards others, and asceticism. Accordingly, the icons of St. Kateri portray a radiant young native woman with the glow of devotion in an ethereal light. Sometimes she is depicted with the lily as a symbol of her virginity (she resisted her foster family’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her). These depictions of Kateri are not what any person would have seen, and they gloss over the suffering she experienced in her life.
Kateri was affected at a very young age from an epidemic of smallpox that killed many members of her family and village. The disease scarred her face, and left her vision slightly impaired. The name Tekakwitha means “she who bumps into things.” She was displaced from her village as local fighting between warring tribes and French soldiers made her village unsafe. She was acquainted with the pain Isaiah captures in the image of a woman in the pangs of childbirth. Yet, her pain did not define her; it was her love for God and others that we remember today.
The link between Kateri’s pain and her generosity mirrors the fecundity of new life that came through Jesus’ Pashcal Mystery. While suffering has the potential to harden our hearts, it equally has the power to soften them. Our most difficult stretches of life are normally dark times for us, yet they have a clarifying effect to show us what truly matters in life—love of God and others.
How has pain in my life made me a more generous person?