From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blessed Kateri: She who bumped into things

Kateri Tekakwitha (By Father Chauchetiere)
“Things that go bump in the night” are often thought of as particularly threatening.  At the same time, they are imbued with a mysterious quality that some might call spiritual.

Kateri “Tekakwitha” (thus named “she who bumps into things” due to her impaired eyesight from a severe bout of smallpox) responded to physical, emotional and spiritual threats with equal grace.  She was born in 1656 C.E. to an
Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Chief in the then-Mohawk
village of Canaouaga or Ossernenon (now Auriesville, New
York).  At the tender age of four, Kateri’s parents both died
of smallpox – a disease that had been introduced into their
Native community by the European settlers.  Although Kateri survived the dreaded disease - she was not only left with compromised eyesight, but also with a “badly scarred” face.

Nevertheless, Kateri was extremely drawn to the Christian
faith of some of these settlers.  After her parents’ death, she was taken in by her uncle’s family.  By the age of eight, Kateri already knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to a Christian worship of God.  Therefore, when her foster family attempted to arrange a future marriage for her according to Iroquois custom, Kateri’s heart was not on board with the prospect.  She thus found herself not only bumping into physical objects, but also into the resistance of her own people.

When Kateri was ten, a “war party composed of French soldiers and hostile Indians from Canada” wound up destroying Ossernenon and other nearby Mohawk settlements.  Kateri and other survivors moved across
the river to the north side “and built their fortified village about half a mile west of the present village of Fonda.” also reports that Kateri lived there at Caughnawaga (site of the present Shrine)
until she was 20.

At the age of 18, she “began instructions in the Catholic Faith in secret.”  Although her uncle finally gave consent for her to become a Christian, Kateri was scorned, mocked and threatened by others.  Approximately two years after her baptism, she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, “a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada.”  There she lived out the rest of her short life with a “vow of perpetual virginity.”  She was known for her great devotion - and for her service to those most in need.

During these years, Kateri also suffered tremendously.  When illness claimed her life at age 23, her final words were “Jesus – Mary – I love you.”  Witnesses also stated that “within a few minutes of her death, the pock marks from smallpox completely vanished and her face shone with radiant loveliness.”

She who had bumped into things all her life was now at peace.


Copyright November 22, 2011 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved 

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