The best of both worlds

  • October 17, 2012

What is our favourite TV show? Do we allow our children to read and watch The Hunger Games? What style of clothing do we choose? How much time do we spend online, and how do we spend it?

Every day, we are influenced by a culture that was rooted in Christianity but is now shaped by a radical secularism and a need for instant gratification. How are we as Catholics called to live in a culture that has not only forgotten its evangelical roots but often denigrates or even opposes them?

St. Kateri Tekakwitha offers valuable insights into this question by her intense commitment to Jesus Christ at a time when native cultures were confronted and often oppressed by European cultures.

Born of an Algonquin mother and Mohawk father, Kateri courageously bridged the gap between her own First Nations cultures and French Catholicism, embracing the best of both. Even her name highlights this characteristic: “Kateri” is a Mohawk version of the French “Catherine.” In embracing both her native heritage and Christianity, Kateri discovered and lived fully her deepest identity, expressing it in her total commitment to the Person of Christ.

Kateri’s intense love for Christ inspired her to follow Him wholeheartedly, both in prayer and in works of charity. But her ardour stirred up the animosity of many in her home village. Initially petty, the hostility escalated into real persecution — from children taunting her and throwing rocks, to her family refusing to allow her to eat on Sundays when she took extra time to pray, to death threats.

Instead of scaring her into a compromise, Kateri’s Mohawk upbringing inclined her to regard bravery in suffering as a sign of spiritual strength. She didn’t just accept suffering as part of life, but embraced it, wanting to share in the Cross of Christ for the sake of her people. Only after repeated death threats did Kateri reluctantly decide to flee to where she could live her faith freely.

Upon arriving at Sault St. Louis, the Christian native village in present day Kahnawake, Kateri’s fervour in prayer and generous kindness quickly made her a spiritual leader. She loved to pray in the Jesuit chapel, arriving first for Mass early in the morning, but she also prayed in the outdoor “chapel” she created by carving a cross into a tree trunk. Even the austere penances she practised were an expression of her love for Christ.

Kateri’s intense love for Jesus led her to embrace the counter-cultural call to virginity. Marriage was such an important value in her native culture that both in her home village and in the Christian village, Kateri faced innumerable pressures to marry. (Even her Jesuit mentors did not initially encourage her.) Her inexplicable fidelity to virginal chastity can only be explained by a call from God.

As her understanding of Christian life matured, Kateri’s desire for chastity flowered into a vow of virginity. Kateri is the first native woman of North America known to make this vow. Virginity was her vocation, her “way of love” in the world, and only in becoming a Catholic could Kateri discover and live the fullness of her vocation.

Immersed in her own culture, but not enslaved by it, Kateri’s reception of Christ’s saving love enabled her to develop her deepest identity. Affirming her First Nations heritage kept her rooted in her own culture, but also helped her follow a personal call and make the courageous choices for Baptism and consecrated virginity.

St. Kateri is a remarkable model for how we can engage in our culture today. She showed us how to claim our own heritage, embracing the values that strengthen our deepest identity and foster our commitment to Christ; how to discerningly engage with culture, aware that our unique identity is shaped by culture and also by God; and how to view every people and culture with the eyes of Christ, discovering common human values and the seeds of the Gospel even in the midst of conflict.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, saint of the New Evangelization, pray for us!


Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.