Firm Faith

Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from:

In our first reading we heard about the military conflicts between Israel and its oppressors, but it is the message of Isaiah at the end that is important.  He tells the people that their only hope is their complete reliance on Yahweh.  It’s those last lines that say it all: “Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!”

Today we celebrate St. Kateri Tekakwitha who truly lived a firm, faith life.  She was born in 1656 near upstate New York.  Her mother was a Christian Algonquin who was captured and given to the Mohawk chief.  When Kateri was four, a smallpox epidemic took the lives of her parents and brother, left her disfigured and partially blind.  She was adopted by her uncle who became the Chief.  Jesuit priests were present in their village and Kateri was influenced their words and ministry.  Fear, however, kept her from seeking instruction to become a Catholic until she was 19.  At that time, she refused to marry, courageously asked to be converted and was baptized with the name Kateri on Easter Sunday.

This decision, however, cost her greatly.  She was treated as an outcast and an enslaved person.  Her life was always in danger because others opposed her conversion.  She, however, prayed, fasted, and served others lovingly.

Heeding the advice of a priest, Kateri ran away and walked 200 miles to a Christian Indian village near Montreal.  There she continued to grow in holiness.  She gave herself to God in long hours of prayer, charity and tireless penance.

At 23, Kateri took a vow of virginity, which was an extraordinary act for an Indian woman whose future depended on being married.  Although she wanted to start a religious community of women, she was discouraged from doing so.  Humbly, then, she led a very ordinary life, but practiced severe fasting for the conversion of her nation.

She died at age 24 in 1680, and those present said her emaciated face changed color and became like that of a healthy, smiling child.  In 2012, she became the first Native American to be canonized and is the patron saint of ecology and the environment.

Two things we can learn from this simple Native American young woman.

  1. She is certainly someone we can pray to in our day as we grow in awareness, appreciation and respect of our Native American sisters and brothers and their culture.
  2. As her biography tells us, “she often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature.” Because of this pandemic, we’ve learned to appreciate even more the exquisiteness of nature.  Kateri would want us to really stop and notice that beauty as we walk, or ride, or work in the yard, to feel God’s presence in everything, and to praise our God for this wonderful gift to us.

St. Kateri, who also lived through an epidemic, pray for us that we may live a firm, faith life.