I’m an avid fan of history and historical fiction. For me, history is about the story and often truth is indeed stranger than fiction. Yet history is also about more than just crazy or interesting stories; it’s also about what those stories can teach us today.
It’s the job of the historian or the author to make those stories relevant to our times, for history does indeed repeat itself and we can learn much from the lessons of the past. This is one reason, I believe, that the Catholic Church recognizes the saints, for Christians today can learn much from the lives of Christians of the past.
Three hundred and thirty-three years ago today, a young woman died in a small hut in New York state. She was only twenty-four years old and she didn’t lead a great movement or write a great book or build a great monument. She simply lived her faith—and suffered for it—and by doing so, inspired the people not only of her own generation, but those of generations since. Her name was Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and today is her feast day.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said,”The canonization of Saint Kateri is a great honour and joyous occasion for the many North Americans and Aboriginal peoples who cherish her witness of faith and strength of character.”
AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo said, “This is an emotional occasion for all Catholics around the world, especially in the Indigenous community, as a sister of ours is bestowed with the highest honour given by the Catholic Church.”
Even though Kateri died over three hundred years ago, her story continues to resonate with people today. She was an orphan, was persecuted for her faith and suffered from poor eyesight and poor health. She is the patron saint of the environment and ecology because she often spent time alone in the woods praying and made crosses from sticks and branches to serve as “stations” that reminded her to pray.
As I read her story, one small part stuck out for me. Kateri’s mother was Catholic and her father Mohawk; both died in the smallpox epidemic when she was four. Kateri was raised by her Mohawk uncle, who hated the Jesuit priests, and didn’t have a chance to learn more about Jesus until a Jesuit missionary arrived when she was eighteen.
Yet Kateri remembered the faith of her mother and continued to pray throughout her childhood and teen years, and sought out the priest when he arrived, asking for religious instruction. It was encouragement for me as a mom of two (soon three) little girls who often chatter through bedtime prayers and wiggle through Mass; my efforts to teach them about faith will hopefully be rewarded, just as Kateri’s mother’s efforts were.
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