Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who died on this day in 1680 outside what is now Montreal, is venerated, as I discovered at Mass this morning, as ‘Protectress’ of Canada. Quite a title for such a young woman, hidden from the world, dying in the backwoods, in the youngest days of this nation when it was a French-English colony, a vast, endless land of forest, field, tundra, lakes and rivers, a few villages dotted here and there.
Tekakwitha (not her last name, but her pre-Christian given name) was born in 1656 in what is now the United States, near Auriesville, New York (where a shrine to three of the Jesuit martyrs now stands), the daughter of a Mohawk chief and a captured Algonquin woman (who had converted to Christianity). In 1661, a smallpox epidemic swept through the village, carrying off Tekakwitha’s parents, and leaving the young girl horribly scarred, and sensitive to light. She would wear a blanket around her head, and avoided crowds, although was also kind, patient and diligent, learning all the skills of her indigenous culture. As she entered her later teen years, she refused offers of marriage, knowing somehow that she was supposed to remain a virgin and consecrated. Learning more of the faith from the Jesuit missionaries, she was drawn to the beautiful and hopeful truths of Catholicism, and Tekakwitha was duly baptized into the Church on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1676, taking the name ‘Kateri’ in honour of her patroness, Saint Catherine of Siena.
In the four years that remained of her short life, Kateri’s routine was one of work, prayer and penance, the latter sometimes excessive, sleeping on thorns, burning herself in solidarity with the victims of torture, eating little. These were moderated by her spiritual director, the Jesuit Father Chauchetière, and Kateri submitted to his obedience, which in the main is always better than sacrifice.
Her reputation grew as a saint during her lifetime, and when she died peacefully, which was also Holy Wednesday in 1680, miracles began at once, beginning with herself: Witnesses relate that her scarred, swollen face within minutes of her death became smooth and beautiful; people saw visions of her on her way to paradise, and she continues her work from heaven, a Canadian version of Saint Therése (who died at the same age, 24, along with Pier Giorgio Frassati, now that I think of it, all of whom went their true homeland ‘straight as an arrow’, as was the explicit desire of the Carmelite of Lisieux; after all, why dally?).
Saint Kateri body’s lies encased in a sarcophagus in St. Francis Xavier Jesuit mission church on Kahnawake, the reservation on the outskirts of Montreal, near the spot where she went to eternity, and where Kateri’s Jesuit spiritual director had built a small chapel soon after her death.
Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, Saint Kateri is now one of Canada’s spiritual bodyguards (God does not much consider physical strength), and we need all the protecting we can get, as the Evil One prowls around looking for souls to devour: Not least, Kateri’s example of purity is an antidote to our immersion in sexual deviance of various varieties, now foisted upon most of our children through Kathleen Wynne’s pornographic and scandalous ‘sex-ed’ program, beginning at the very dawn of reason and innocence. Might as well corrupt the bud in its infancy, as the Devil might reason; after all, as the Evil One also thinks, why wait?
Saint Thomas was well aware that there’s nothing like lust to numb and blind the mind to the truth. We are awash in sexual malfeasance and its vitiating effects, so many consciences deadened, the lamp of the soul cold and dark.
Of course, there for the grace of God go each one of us; but to be aware of the evil is the first, and most fundamental, part of the battle; as Pius XII warned, the greatest sin of our century is the loss of the sense of sin. Yet, even the mention of ‘lust’ in these environs, to say nothing of a young person’s intent to remain ‘pure, chaste and virgin’, would be to invite a mocking snicker, if not an outright rebuke, as Kateri herself experienced in her own pagan and libidinous culture (but which had nothing on us). One must think long beforehand before sending one’s children into the moral quagmire that public education has become.
As Pope John Paul declared, the trivialization of sexuality is at the root of the hecatomb of abortion. Even in her early ‘pagan’ days, Kateri saw impurity as a great evil, the gateway to other greater evils, and perhaps her penance was in prophetic reparation what Canada would become. The body is not a tool to be used for our hedonistic pleasure, then discarded when the party’s over and things begin to sag, but rather the very temple of the Holy Spirit, the visible and tangible expression of our souls which, as body-soul ‘persons’, display the very image of the Trinitarian God.
All that the same God asks of us is that we strive to live lives of virtue, and avoid the wages of sin, which in a mysterious way sow the seeds of corruption for eternity.
In this Triduum, and the subsequent joys of Easter, we can look forward to the day when, like Saint Kateri, we receive this body back at the end of time, free of any spot, wrinkle or smallpox scar, youthful and glorious, and hopefully, like her, bring many with us.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, ora pro nobis!