THEME: Faith and Perseverance

BY: Deacon Bill Frere




Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Gospel – Matthew 11:28-30

As many of you know, besides being stationed at Mary, Undoer of Knots Parish, I also serve as the Permanent Deacon for the Native American community in the Archdiocese of Chicago, based at the St. Kateri Center at St. Benedict Parish on the north side.

We celebrate today the feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. To give you a little background. Kateri was born to an Algonquin-Mohawk tribe in upstate New York in 1656. When she was a child, smallpox hit her village; her mother, father and brother all died. She survived but the smallpox left her partially blind, weak and her face permanently scarred and blistered the rest of her life. She often went out in public with a blanket to hide her scars.

She was adopted by her uncle and at the age of 10 the village was visited by the Black Robes. Her encounters with the priests and other Christians, and the stories she heard of the Gospel, moved her. And so, at the age of 19, on Easter Sunday, she was baptized, taking the name Kateri in honor of St. Catherine of Siena. For that, she faced persecution and abuse from her uncle and from the entire village. She was called lazy for not working on Sundays. She was called a traitor to her roots; they accused her of witchcraft and promiscuity and incest. She refused to accept marriage and instead dedicated herself to the Catholic Faith.

Kateri’s devotion was total. Every morning, even in the coldest days of winter, she stood before the chapel door until it opened and remained inside the church until after the last Mass. She had a great love of the Eucharist and the crucified Christ. She helped catechize the young, and care for the old. You’ll see her depicted holding a small cross made of twigs. She often would fashion these crosses herself and place them throughout the woods.

Because of the smallpox, her health was always frail, and in 1680 she caught a cold and died at the age of 24. Her final words were: “Jesus, I love you.” Moments after her death, it is said, her face became luminous and the scars completely vanished. On October 21, 2012, she became the first Native American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. She is venerated today as the patroness of ecology and the environment, of those living in exile and all Native Americans.

I was blessed a couple of years ago to visit her national shrine in upstate New York where I was also honored to deacon that community’s Sunday Mass. It was there I learned another example of the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Just because I am a deacon doesn’t mean I know everything. Up to that point, I had always pronounced her name as KAteri or KaTERI. What I learned that day, after a great deal of practice and teaching from a group of Mohawk women, that the proper pronunciation is GA DA LEE. We learn something new every day!

We hopefully grow every day, not only in age but also in faith. We pray today for the faith and perseverance of Kateri. In spite of all the hardships and trials that life threw at her, Kateri endured and placed her trust in the Lord. A perfect model for the words of today’s Gospel:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light

By her prayerful life, and constant loving service to others, Kateri prepared all her life for meeting the Creator in the Kingdom. And so we pray:

O Saint Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, Your love for Jesus,
so strong, so steadfast, pray that we may become like you.

Your short and painful life showed us your strength and humility.
Pray that we may become forever humble like you.

Like the bright and shining stars at night, we pray that your light
may forever shine down upon us, giving light, hope, peacefulness
and serenity in our darkest moments.

Fill our hearts, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha with your same love for Jesus
and pray that we may have the strength and courage to become one like you in Heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Deacon Bill Frere

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