By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, October 22, 2012

A New Saint: Kateri Tekakwitha!

In am in Rome to represent the CCCB on the occasion of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha. What joy has filled the approximately 1700 Canadian pilgrims, mostly from among our First Nations peoples! A daughter of the Mohawk and Algonquin peoples, Kateri Tekakwitha, has been raised to the glory of the altars by Pope Benedict XVI, and by this all Native peoples are honoured. Now that she has been added to the canon of the Church's saints, she stands before the whole Church as a reminder of the universal call to holiness and a model of cooperation with the mystery of grace.

The earliest intimations of the working of God's grace in Kateri's life were given in the name assigned to her by her family: Tekakwitha. This name, derived from her diminished capacity for sight, can mean a number of things: "she who feels her way ahead"; "moving forward slowly"; "one who bumps into things"; but also "one who places things in order" or "to put all into place". This diversity of meanings has to do in one way or another with seeing what lies before. It is, of course, true that Kateri's physical sight was seriously compromised due to the smallpox from which she suffered. What is equally true, however, and what is of far greater significance, is that her inner vision was clear. Deep within her heart she had received the gift of seeing clearly the truth of Christ and his Church. It is as if God, through the very name Tekakwitha and the life of the one who bore it, has drawn attention to the limits of human vision in order to point us to the true sight that comes from faith. In this Year of Faith, the life of Kateri demonstrates that the gift of faith carries with it the capacity to see clearly the beauty of God and his plan for us, which far exceed in grandeur the sensible realities of this earth.

Kateri is an instructive witness for the new evangelization. She reminds us that, to be effective, this new evangelization must not only be proposed anew but also find an open and ready welcome in the heart of the recipient. When the Jesuit missionary, Father de Lamberville, spoke of our Lord and the Christian faith, the Gospel message of life and hope found a home within her. Thus is the witness of Kateri an invitation to all of us, who will hear the beauty of the Gospel proclaimed afresh, to ask for the grace we need to receive it with joy and respond to its call to life and hope.

Our new saint also teaches us, in a unique way, that our response in faith to Jesus Christ brings healing. Among the most striking aspects of her witness is the miraculous transformation of her face soon after her death. From the age of four terribly scarred by the smallpox, her face was restored to its original beauty only minutes after she had died. This was preceded by the words she spoke just as her life ended: "Jesus I love you." The love of Christ for us, and our answering love for him, heals. How greatly do we need this lesson from Kateri today! We may not bear physical scars, but so many today carry deep emotional and psychological ones. These are inflicted not by smallpox but by poverty, addiction, loneliness, and betrayal. Yet Kateri teaches us that no wound, however deep, should leave us without hope. Let us remember her words: "Jesus I love you." These few words sum up her entire life. Kateri's facial healing is an outward sign of the interior transformation that is given to all who hand over their lives to Christ, and who do so in love.

Saint Kateri, pray for us!