The FEAST OF BLESSED KATERI TEKAKWITHA - what a wonderful day for us to be together. There is no place I would rather be today than here at the National Center for the Cause of Blessed Kateri. I am grateful to Father John Paret, of the Society of Jesus, the Vice-Postulator for the Cause of Blessed Kateri, for the kind invitation to be present and I assure him of the deep pleasure I feel being here.
A few weeks ago, as I was preparing the homily for this Feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, I examined the readings for our Mass today. Immediately ideas came to mind as I went over the first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. I found a wonderful introduction for the life of Blessed Kateri. Let me repeat the brief reading from Isaiah.
"Just as from the heavens the rain and and snow come down And do not return there till they have watered the earth making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows, and bread to him who eats So shall thy word be, that goes forth from my mouth It shall not return to me void but shall do my will achieving the end for which I sent it."
As the prophet said:"Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful" as we come to know the life of Blessed Kateri well, it seems certain that God wanted her to 'come down" and be a presence of His Love for people here on earth, and like watering the earth and making it fertile, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha has made a tremendous spiritual imprint on the earth. The prophet continued:"Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats" - Blessed Kateri gave to her people during the short years of her life, the message of God and his teachings, and these continue as fertile soil does, and she has been bringing the love of God to people for over 300 years.
Isaiah the propher had a beautiful and meaningful way of expressing the glory of God and he continued:"The seed shall not return to me void but shall do my will achieving the end of which I sent it." As many decades have passed and the life of Blessed Kateri and her deeds continue to become better known every year, it seems that without any doubt, God really planted the young Indian Mohawk maiden, Kateri, on this earth here - for the purpose of bringing His Love to the Native American people and to be a spiritual inspiration for everyone.
The expression of the prophet "it shall not return to me void, meaning the Faith and Love of God for all people, but shall be my Will achieving the end for which I sent it."
All over the North American Continent and in many European, African and South American lands, Blessed Kateri and her apostolate to Mohawk sisters and brothers, is well known. It has gone, really, all over, as the prophet said, "achieving the end for which he sent it."
With that paraphrase of the life of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, based on the first reading, I think it is well brought out and daily known, what a jewel she was - and how much she was loved by God, Who give her the needed social and spiritual gifts to have an influence for good and bring Faith and Hope to her people. And as one, like thousands, who prays daily to Blessed Kateri, asking in a two fold way that God will soon move her Cause to Canonization - and beseeching Kateri to bring daily intentions to God, I have the patience and trust to believe that God does hear those prayers - and she will be canonized when God wishes.
My first association with the Native Americans was at the August Tekakwitha Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1977, one month in the new assignment. I listened as 48 Native people and religious expressed their frustrations about getting nowhere with the Conference. In fact, a suggestion was made to discontinue the Conference that was established in 1939. I begged for the opportunity to see how the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions might be helpful and form then on took agreat interest in promoting the Conference. It did grow to 250 attendees the next year, then quickly to 600 and last year over 1000 attended in San Diego. We are looking for almost 2000 in two weeks - Julyu 31 - August 4 at the University of Michigan State in Lansing, Michigan. I give that information about the Tekakwitha Conference, because over the years I have watched the great devotion of people to the Cause of Blessed Kateri, as a result of the Conference, and the conference has been a geat catalyst to spread the devotion to Kateri.
In the United States and likewise in several foreign there are groups united for the devotion of Blessed Kateri under the name of Kateri Circles. At present there are close to 200 Circles holding regular monthly meetings and growing in number - thousands of people devoted to Kateri. Many hundreds of Parish Churches and schools have statues of Blessed Kateri and a beautifuly statue is in a promiment place in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Pictures and holy card are constantly being distributed and people are asked to pray daily for the Canonization of the Blessed. Daily more and more are getting to know her.
But, here in Auriesville, N.Y. where Kateri was born. Whether it is the annual Feast Day like today, a simple meeting dedicated to her - whatever the occasion - it is a must that there is a review of the important things in her life. Born, then, in Auriesville in the year 1656, Kateri suffered from an epidemic of smallpox and her face became scared. Her parents, a Mohawk Father and an Algonquin Mother, both died and she was adopted by an Uncle and Aunt. There was a move to push her toward marriage but she was not interested in becoming the wife of any man.
In the eleventh year of Kateri's age, the first Christian missionaries entered her village and began to teach the people about God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, along with Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Kateri listened to them and tried to learn as much as possible about Jesus. People of her tribe made fun of her and put all kind of obstacles in the way, making her do extra work in the fields, not providing her with sufficient food and in general, they made life very miserable for her. But Kateri persevered and every day grew closer to God.
Kateri was baptized and made her first Holy Communion Christmas Day in the year 1677 when she was 21 years old. Three years later, on the 17th of April, 1680, she died in Holy Week.
Many times we get asked to tell people things about the life of Blessed Kateri and many times her followers know so little, only that she was an Indian young girl. It is the hope and prayer of many thousands of Indian and on-Indian folks - that soon she will be the first one with Native American blood to be honored as a Saint of the Church.
These are the basic things, then about her life. She was born in 1656, got to know the missionaries when she was 11 years old, made her first communion when 21 years old and died April 17, 1680 when she was 24.
Let me repeat the few things again. Blessed Kateri was born in 1656, learned about the Chruch when the missionaries came to her village, made her first holy communion at 21 years and died in 1680 at the age of 24.
Daily living became so difficult for Kateri that she was advised to flee Caughnawagha (Fonda NY) here and to Khanawake Resevation on the St. Lawrence River near Montreal, Canada. Father James deLamberville, who had baptized Kateri, gave her a note for the Jesuit Superior at Khanawake. It read: "I am sening you a treasure, guard it well". Kateri's unfailing gentleness, her wholesome humility, her innate kindness, her good humor and wit, as the accounts tell of her, won the hearts of the Reservation Tribal people.
Every morning she attend Mass. She practiced excessive mortification. The great delight of her life was prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. However, she never neglected her work when it was her duty, neither in the longhouse nor in the cornfields. A year before she died she was allowed to pronounce a private vow of virginity and to consecrate herself to Our Blessed Mother, whom she loved very much.
In the 24th year as we heard, she became quite ill and died with the words - Jeus, Mary - on her lips. Some years ago there was a great Jesuit Priest, Father Henri Béchard, who was the Vice-Postulator of the Kateri Cause in Canada. I still remeber the wonderful talks he gave about Blessed Kateri and the devotion he had hwne he told of her death - and her last workds spoken - Jesus, Mary. His words about Kateri and -Jesus, Mary - ring often in my head.
Favors and miracles obtained through her intercession began immediately. She appeared three times to the Jesuit priest, Father Chauchetière, and to others. The scales that covered all of Kateri's face from the smallpox remained until she died. Immediately after her last breath there was not a trace of a scar. The Jesuits and her Aunt were at her side and others present gave testimony how Kateri's face cleared and they said she had a remarkable beautiful smile.
In 1980, at the Vatican for the Beatification of Blessed Kateri, I was interviewed by Vatican Radio and the first quesiton ws this: "Did Kateri Tekakwitha really live, or has she been made up to please the Native Americans?" There were problems with a St. Christopher and Saint Philomena, with grade doubts whether they actually existed. I was ready to respond and told the person in the interview that the Jesuit Fathers had extensive and many written records about Kateri - written while she was alive and that testimony had been fathered from many, at the time of her death.
So what is the situation with Blessed Kateri today - on her Feast Day - July 14, year 2002. Let me tell you a few of my thoughts.
To repeat - she is the only one with Native American Blood to be honored in a major way - she is Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Mohawk. I feel the day is coming soon when Holy Mother Church will declare her to be Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
The 2000 Census shows that there are well ove 2 million Native Americans in the United States, and Native Americans percentage wise, are increasing more than any other ethnic group. Among the 2 million Indians there is no better known than Blessed Kateri. She has come into homes and hearts and is loved by Indians and non-Indians. Babies are being baptized with the name of Kateri, young girls take the name of Kateri for Confirmation, Churches are being dedicated under the name of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
Although one first class miracle is needed yet for canonization, there are hundreds of reports of blessings, really miracles, that are on record.
Kateri lives in the hearts as no other person today. The fact that so many know her, go to her, ask her help, love her - is for me a first class miracle.
The Gospel of today told in detail of the farmer who went out sowing seed. Part of it fell on the footpath where the birds came and ate it up. Part of it fell on rock ground, where it had little soi, and when it sprouted the sun scorched it. Part of the seed fell among thorns which gew up and chocked it. Finally, part of it fell on good soil and yielded grain a hundred or sixty or thirty fold.
Let us thank God that when His Word fell on Blessed Kateri, it produced that hundred fold, and we today still receive blessings because of the young Mohawk girl. May the Word of God in our lives always fall on good soil, as it did for Kateri.