It took 128 years from the launch of her sainthood cause for Kateri Tekakwitha to be canonized. That’s a long wait even by Church standards. But when Pope Benedict proclaimed St. Kateri on Oct. 21, the timing seemed perfect.
Kateri’s life of virtue and holiness was lived more than 400 years ago, but perhaps there has never been an era when her story was more relevant — or more important. In many respects the 17th-century heroine is ideally suited for these times.
Orphaned, disfigured by smallpox, ostracized for her beliefs, Kateri committed her life to works of charity and to Christ. Despite facing constant hostility, her faith was steadfast.
As we begin the Year of Faith, Catholics are being called to become proud and joyful disciples who give public witness to faith. In an era when Western culture is widely cynical about religion, Catholics are asked to re-connect with Church teaching and re-embrace Catholic values. They’re asked to confront an increasingly secular world with courage and conviction, to promote Catholic truths and to resist the secular forces of conformity.
Just as St. Kateri did.
“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” Pope Benedict said at the canonization ceremony.
In particular, Kateri, who died at age 24, can be a model for Catholic youth. Young people need a counter influence to offset a pervasive media culture that constantly dismisses traditional morality in favour of hedonism and materialism. Kateri’s life demonstrated the virtue of living a life guided by prayer, sacrifice and charity.
She also showed that it’s not how you look, but how you live that’s important. Society today places perverse value on personal appearance. Looking good is a multi-billion-dollar industry that targets teens and young adults with an often-harmful message. Kateri’s story is a counter message that professes that true beauty is emitted from the heart, not reflected in a mirror.
Her face scarred and her eyesight damaged at an early age by small pox, Kateri stands as a symbol of strength and comfort for anyone persecuted or bullied because they are different. That message is important at a time when technology is making bullying easier than ever and when teen depression and suicide are rising. Kateri faced her tormentors. She refused to abandon her beliefs but instead answered a call to chastity and embraced Christ, even though it made her an object of scorn in her village.
As Quebec Archbishop Gerald Lacroix said, Kateri is an excellent role model for young people of how to live a “simple life, faithful to the Lord, in the midst of hostility.”
Kateri lived her faith proudly and proclaimed it joyfully. It’s a message worth spreading.