"Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice…" (John 18:37)

St. Kateri Tekakwitha – Lily of the Mohawks

kateriBorn: 1656 in Ossernenon, Iroquois Confederacy (present day Auriesville, New York)

Died: April 17, 1680 in Kahnawake (near Montréal), Québec, Canada.

Canonized: October 21, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI

Feast Day: July 14th

Patronage: Ecologists, ecology, environment, environmentalism, environmentalists, loss of parents, people in exile, people ridiculed for their piety, Native Americans.

Attributes: Lily (symbol of purity – vow of virginity), turtle, rosary

“Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America! May God bless the first nations!” Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Canonization of St. Kateri

Mohawk_Slice

The Mohawk River flows east for 240 kilometers before intersecting with the Hudson River.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha has the distinction of being the only First Nations American to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Born in the village of Ossernenon in 1656 (a Mohawk village that was part of the Iroquois Confederacy1 – now the northeastern United States), Tekakwitha was the daughter of the chief of the tribe and his Algonquin wife.

The Mohawk River is a tributary of the Hudson River. Lake Ontario is in the upper left corner of the map.

The Mohawk River is a tributary of the Hudson River. Lake Ontario is in the upper left corner of the map.

 The Mohawks were a fierce, warring people – bitter enemies of the Algonquin and Huron tribes who referred to the Iroquois as “The Killer People.” (Mohawk means “Man-eaters,” and this seems to be an apt description as the Mohawks were known to eat their enemies on occasion.) The men were renowned hunters and trappers, and the women prepared the food, did the farming, and raised the children. Women were also responsible for making important decisions within the tribe, such as choosing who would be chief, arranging marriages, and deciding when it was time to go to war.2

Ossernenon

Tekakwitha’s maternal grandparents were members of the Algonquin tribe and would have been among the first Native Americans to receive the Gospel from the Jesuit missionaries. But sometime in the early 1650’s – when Tekakwitha’s mother was in her late teens – a large band of Mohawk warriors raided the Christian settlement at Trois-Rivières and carried off a number of captives, including Tekakwitha’s mother.3 She endured a 483-kilometer journey by water and land before arriving at her new home: the village of Ossernenon. Tekakwitha’s father was already a chief of the village and was probably able to choose her as his wife right away. It’s possible that because of this, she was saved from the tortures and slavery that would have been the fate of the other captives.4

 Ossernenon had the dubious distinction of being the Mohawk village where St. Isaac Jogues, S.J. and St. René Goupil had been tortured and martyred just a few years earlier. The Turtle clan, of which Tekakwitha’s father was a member, did not take part in the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues (in 1646). But Tekakwitha’s father was in his teens at the time of St. Isaac Jogues’ capture in 1642 and would most likely have participated in his torture.5

longhouseslg

Mohawk Village, 1600s.

The Mohawks lived in longhouses on bluffs overlooking the Mohawk River. It was an idyllic setting: pine forests, maple trees, elm trees, and wildlife abounded all around them. But the beauty of the landscape could not hide the fact that the Native Americans were facing unique challenges at that time. Their contact with Europeans had exposed them to deadly diseases and epidemics such as smallpox. The introduction of alcohol (to which the Natives had no resistance) had had a devastating effect on their culture and society, and the traditional Native respect for nature had begun to deteriorate in response to the demand for furs.

 Tekakwitha’s Early Life

Around the time of Tekakwitha’s birth in 1656, there was a short period of time (between 1655-1658) when Jesuit missionaries were allowed to visit the Mohawk villages. Tekakwitha’s mother “was known in the village as a woman of prayer,”6 but as the wife of a chief, it would not have been acceptable for her to request baptism for her children. “She would have been allowed to participate, however, in a Mass said outside of the village with the other Christians.”7

Tragically, when Tekakwitha was just 4 years old, an epidemic of smallpox decimated the village of Ossernenon. It claimed the lives of upwards of 60% of the population, including both of her parents and her baby brother. Tekakwitha survived, but the disease left her disfigured. Her body and face were scarred with pockmarks, and she almost lost her eyesight. Her eyes were so damaged that for the remainder of her life, she would need to cover herself with a blanket whenever she was out in strong light.

kateri_smallAs is the custom among the Iroquois, the little orphan girl was taken in by her immediate family – in this case, her father’s brother (who was also a chief in their village) and his wife. They named her Tekakwitha, an Iroquois name that means, “One Who Bumps into Things,” probably because of her poor eyesight.8 Because the Iroquois had learned from experience that it was not safe to remain in a village where an epidemic had occurred, those who survived the disease soon moved upriver to a new village that they called Caughnawaga (the site of present day Fonda, New York).

 Life at Caughnawaga

Tekakwitha led the normal life of a Native girl and was raised according to the ways of the Mohawks. Those who knew her as a child said that “she had spirit and was skillful, especially with her fingers, in making such objects as the other Natives do.”9 She worked with porcupine and moose skins, and made wood and wampum belts out of shell beads. She sewed, made ribbons out of eel skins and tree barks, and made baskets and buckets to carry water. “She sometimes made a hollow tree trunk for grinding corn, mats from tree bark, and poles to stack the corn. Her everyday occupations were to peel the corn, to make the sagamite and the Native bread, search for water, carry wood and also fill the plates with food and serve them.”10 Her behaviour was unusual in only one respect. Tekakwitha was pledged to be married at the age of 8 – a custom that was typical within the Iroquois culture – but neither she nor the boy were the least interested.11

When Tekakwitha was 10, the French army attacked the Mohawks and burned their villages (including Caughnawaga) to the ground. Although she and her family escaped into the forest, they and other surviving members of her village spent a bitter winter in the woods, exposed to the harsh elements and near starvation. In the spring, those who survived “built a new village of Caughnawaga, not far from the one destroyed by the French just to the north across the Mohawk River.”12

Ruins of the 17th century village of Caughnawaga. It was built in 1666 after the burning of the Mohawk villages by the French army.

Ruins of the 17th century village of Caughnawaga. It was built in 1666 after the burning of the Mohawk villages by the French army.

The Coming of the ‘Black Robes’

The destruction of the Mohawk villages meant that the balance of power in the New World had shifted once and for all. Forced to acknowledge this new reality, “an envoy of Mohawks and Oneidas met in Quebec with the French to bring gifts of peace and to escort Jesuit missionaries back to their nations as part of the peace terms.”13 And so it came to pass that in 1667 – when Tekakwitha was around the age of 11 – she had her first encounter with the Jesuits.

During the next seven years, Tekakwitha didn’t have much contact with the Jesuit missionaries, but she must have listened to a lot of talk about “the prayer,” as the Mohawks referred to Christianity. A growing number of people within the Mohawk tribe had become Christians – either because they had been captured and brought into the village (as was the case with Tekakwitha’s mother), or because they had converted after coming into contact with the Jesuit missionaries. The Mohawks allowed the Christians to pray, for to forbid this would have been to break the terms of their treaty with the French. But there was a lot of opposition within the tribe to those who abandoned native practices, such as dream guessing (considered sorcery by the missionaries), the False Face Society (the use of occult powers to conjure healing), and drunkenness and casual sexual practices.

French Map of Iroquois settlements along the Mohawk and St. Lawrence River.

French Map of Iroquois settlements along the Mohawk and St. Lawrence River.

Because of the many difficulties they faced in living out their faith, some of the Native Christians left the village for the Jesuit mission at Sault Saint-Louis. But their decision had a devastating impact on those they left behind. “The Mohawks were saddened and angered when groups of their people left to follow a new faith and subsequently left the tribe for the mission in Canada. Those left behind felt abandoned and vulnerable, because now they would need to replace those members through traditional warfare and capture. Survival depended on a population that could hunt and grow crops, and each capable person who left the tribe left a gap in productivity. … The traditional Iroquois considered those who converted and left traitors to their native way of life. And those that left went in search of freedom to live their new faith with those who accepted them.”14

Conversion

One day in 1674, when Tekakwitha was confined to the longhouse after injuring her leg, one of the Jesuit priests – Fr. De Lamberville – felt drawn to visit. She had never met this priest before, but when he asked if there was anything that he could do for her, she told him that she wanted to become a Christian. She had long felt drawn to the Christian faith – perhaps in part because of the influence of her Christian mother, but also perhaps from observing the behaviour of other Christians in the village. She was very worried that her uncle would disapprove, but when Fr. De Lamberville invited her to come to pray at the chapel, it was the only encouragement she needed.

The chapel became Tekakwitha’s second home, and in the months to come, Fr. De Lamberville found that her life was beyond reproach. “Everyone saw her extraordinary virtue, from the heathens to the faithful. The Christians saw her exactitude in obeying the rules of life. The Father had told her to go every day to the prayers of the morning and evening and every Sunday to assist Mass. The Father told her what she must avoid. These were the dream feasts, the dances, and the other gatherings among the Natives that are contrary to purity. These general rules were good for the others, but Catherine had practiced all of this before her baptism. The Father gave her some particular directions and regulated the prayers that she should say, as well as the practices of virtue to embrace. Catherine had such vigor to live in this manner.”15

Baptism and Persecution

On Easter Sunday, 1676, Tekakwitha was baptized “Catherine” (Kateri – after St. Catherine of Siena). It was an event that brought her great joy, but it also marked the beginning of a time of great personal persecution. “Once she took on the public commitment to be a Christian, … she began to be singled out and ridiculed for her Christian practice, even by children who pointed at her as she walked by and called her a Christian as though the word were a curse. Her aunts were especially perturbed with her firm commitment to observe Sundays and holy days, accusing her of being lazy because she would not work in the fields as all the other women did. … They made it a point not to let her have food on the days that she did not work in the fields, hoping to force her to give up her Sunday and holy day observances. They also encouraged others to harass her by following after her on her way to St. Peter’s chapel, pretending to be drunk and throwing stones at her.”16 Her uncle even asked a young man to threaten her with a hatchet in an attempt to get her to renounce her new faith, but she simply “sat docilely on the floor of the longhouse with her head bowed, ignoring his antics.”17 When none of these tactics worked, the tribe resorted to twisting her words and accused her of impurity.

Although Kateri was discouraged by the harsh treatment, she humbly continued to serve her aunts and was faithful to attending prayers and Mass. But when her brother-in-law returned to the village in the fall of 1677 to urge her to join him and her sister at the Catholic mission at Sault Saint-Louis (near Montréal) – a journey of “more than 200 miles through woods, rivers, and swamps”18 – she had a decision to make. Fr. De Lamberville encouraged her to accept his invitation, and Kateri managed to slip away from the village unnoticed. But when her uncle found out that she had left, he loaded his gun and went off in pursuit. Fortunately, she and her companions managed to elude him.

Kahnawake

Life in the Sault – also known as Kahnawake – went on much as it did back in Caughnawaga, but the spiritual dimension of it revolved around the Church rather than the dreams and superstitions on which they all had been raised.”19 Kateri freely attended Mass at dawn each Sunday and then again at 8:00 a.m. In between the Masses, she remained in the chapel to pray her rosary, which she carried with her everywhere. “She went to confession every Saturday – which she would prepare for by hitting her shoulders with large branches for penance, while weeping for her sins.”20 “On weekdays, she attended morning and evening prayers, and, after working with the others for the day, she would return at once to the chapel to continue her vigil of prayer,”21 sometimes remaining trance-like for several hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Though it had only been two months since she had arrived at Kahnawake, Fr. Cholenec decided that she would be ready to receive her First Communion on Christmas Day, 1676.22

Suffering in Union with Our Lord

The saints are models of holiness given to us to help us on our spiritual journey. But there is one aspect of St. Kateri’s spirituality that can be difficult for us to accept: the practice of severe penance. To come to some sort of understanding, we need to consider the Iroquois culture in which St. Kateri was raised. Emily Cavins writes, “From the very earliest years of an Iroquois’s life, the toughening of the body in order to endure was highly important. Being able to physically withstand cold, hunger, and pain would strengthen them in order to survive whatever may come along. In the spiritual realm, the Native Americans who embraced Christianity saw physical endurance as a way to bring themselves closer to God, for in the Native American way of thinking, there is no separation between the physical and the spiritual. The rituals of the False Face medicine society were meant to drive away the bad spirits that affected both the mind and the body. The practice of penance for the Native American Christians, then, was connected to endurance, and physically buffeting themselves made their faith become stronger because a body that could endure also meant a strengthening of the spirit over evil.”23

“Some examples of [Iroquois] endurance training show us how tough they were. Immediately after baby boys were born, they were plunged into a river and held there for several seconds, no matter how cold the water. That was done to make them brave hunters. Part of the Iroquois’s upbringing included training to endure the torture of burning without crying out, an essential skill should they be captured by an enemy. Our modern day game of lacrosse originated among the Iroquois as a pre-war game to build stamina and to endure blows from sticks and balls hurled toward them. Though women did not train for warfare, they too learned to withstand the tests of the elements, cold, fire, and hunger.”24

Native Christians would stand in the icy river while reciting the Rosary or beat their backs with switches until they were bloody. Kateri walked barefoot in the snow for long distances while she was praying, and at times she held a hot burning ember of coal between her toes while she prayed the Rosary.25

Kateri, Bride of Christ

Kateri’s sister and brother-in-law continued to pressure her to marry after she had moved to Kahnawake. In the Mohawk way of thinking, “A woman should have a man who could provide meat for food, hides for clothing, and a number of other things necessary for day-to-day life. Kateri’s sister saw no reason why Kateri should continue to be a drain on her and her husband for her livelihood, and since Kateri was such a model of virtue, what single Christian man would not want her as his wife?”26 Kateri did not feel drawn to marriage and resisted the idea, but her desire was unheard of; there was simply no precedent within the Mohawk culture for a woman to remain single.

Portrait by Fr. Claude Chauchetière, S.J., c. 1696

Portrait by Fr. Claude Chauchetière, S.J., c. 1696

During a visit to Ville-Marie (now Montréal), Kateri encountered for the very first time women who were celibate – the Sisters Hospitallers of St. Joseph who were nurses at the hospital. Their vocation came as a revelation to her, and she and her companions returned to Kahnawake, determined to found their own religious community. Kateri approached Fr. Fremin with her idea, but he dismissed it, knowing that it would be impossible at that time. “To start an order of nuns, there would need to be a base of support, and at this young stage of the mission, the concept of supporting a group of young women was out of the question, not to mention dangerous. They would be unprotected from raiding Iroquois who would not hesitate to capture them and bring them back to Iroquois territory.”27

Although the women understood the wisdom of his decision, Kateri was determined to remain a virgin. Her stubbornness was difficult for Kateri’s sister to understand. “Among the Christians, marriage to one’s spouse for life was a virtue that was highly promoted, since in the Native American way of life, marriages could be dissolved very easily and multiple marriages were common. A sacramental marriage would be a wonderful Christian example, so it was confusing to think that Kateri completely refused the idea.”28 But “Kateri wanted to be free to choose her spiritual path, and she had been strongly drawn to celibacy long before she knew it was an option in her new faith. Just as she had been able to grow up avoiding many superstitious practices of her people, she had also been able to remain a virgin, something she innately saw as important. She wanted to commit herself to a life of devotion to Christ and only to him.”29

Kateri asked Fr. Cholenec for his help, insisting that she could sew items that could be traded among the European settlers so that she wouldn’t be a burden to anyone. Although he cautioned her to think it over carefully, he finally gave his consent. On March 25, 1679 – the Feast of the Assumption – “Kateri professed her vow of virginity, renouncing the security that marriage could provide and giving herself to Christ’s care. … On that same day, Kateri consecrated herself to the Blessed Mother, taking her as her mother.”30

Illness and Death

In the summer of 1679, the people of Kahnawake began to engage in an unprecedented time of extreme and bloody penances. The Jesuits found it difficult to monitor what was happening, and though they tried to teach the people moderate forms of penance, those methods didn’t satisfy the Native Christians. “One lashed herself four thousand times. Another cut herself from head to toe. Another stood in an icy stream so long that ice formed on her, and she slept in that condition on her mat in the longhouse.”31

Because severe penance is not a part of our North American culture, it can be difficult for us to understand what motivates people to engage in these kinds of practices. Cavins explains, “Kateri’s ascetic practices were her way of giving herself to her spouse, Jesus. Kateri expressed her self-denial, based on both the beliefs of her native people and the Catholic faith, in order to bring herself into a deeper realm of heightened sensitivity. Her actions were motivated by an intense desire to please Christ, and, in her mind, the more severe the practice, the deeper the sacrifice she was making.”32

“On one occasion, Kateri burned her leg with a brand from ankle to knee. Another time, she burned a hole in her foot with a burning coal. She began to get sick from the severity of her mortifications, but still she would not stop. She continued in her daily practice of prayer even on the coldest days, kneeling in the unheated chapel. Fr. Cholenec tried to send her home or warm her by the fire of his home, but she would return to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament.”33 “Fasting, physical penance, and sleep deprivation all contributed to Kateri’s fragile health, but regardless of her exhaustion, she would rise at 4:00 A.M. with the ringing of the mission bell and return home from prayers as the last one in the evening, many times with little to eat. She did this out of her own desire to suffer with Christ and to show him her sincerity.”34

Kateri’s health began to decline, and at times she could barely function. As Lent progressed, she grew progressively weaker and began to suffer from vomiting, stomach pains, and a persistent fever. The slightest movement caused her great pain, but she never complained. “To her, her own suffering seemed nothing compared to what Christ suffered on the cross for the sins of the world.”35

After many weeks of suffering, Kateri died on Wednesday of Holy Week, 1680. Her face, which had been sickly and pockmarked during life, was transformed in death. Witnesses tell us that it became more beautiful than it had ever been when she had been alive, almost as though “‘a small ray of glory’ from heaven was shining from her.”36

A Saint is Born

Immediately after St. Kateri’s death, miraculous events began to occur. She began to appear to people in visions. Her first appearance – which lasted for two hours – was to Fr. Chauchetière; it occurred on Easter Monday, just six days after her death. “Though she did not speak to him, he saw images of things that later came to pass: a church toppling over and a Native being burned at the stake.”37 Soon after, she made appearances to several friends; the last recorded vision was again to Fr. Chauchetière, more than a year after her death.

From the very start, a remarkable number of people were healed through her intercession. “Among the healings were women surviving difficult childbirths, intestinal blockage, respiratory ailments, pain from rheumatism, small pox, and incurable sicknesses. Two years after her death, Fr. Cholenec commented that there were so many miraculous cures that the Jesuit missionaries at Kahnawake stopped recording them, though they continued to occur continually and consistently.”38

 In his homily at her Canonization on October 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of how St. Kateri lived among her people, “faithful to the traditions of her people, although renouncing their religious convictions. …  Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. She lived a life radiant with faith and purity. Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture. In her, faith and culture enrich each other! May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are.”39

  • Sharon van der Sloot
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St. Kateri Tekakwitha came to be known as the “Lily of the Mohawks” because of the difficulty of living a Christian life in the midst of a traditional Mohawk tribe. Her picture often shows her holding lilies, “which are also associated with purity, for which St. Kateri is known due to her vow of perpetual virginity.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 142)

Prayer to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

God of all creation, goodness and love, our hearts are filled with gratitude and praise for You.

In our beloved St. Kateri You have found gentleness and peace.

In her You have heard once more, “Jesus, I love you.”

In St. Kateri Tekakwitha You have given Your Church a new maiden of the Gospel for Your Son.

As the indigenous peoples of North America celebrate her goodness and as all the Church honours her holiness, we raise our voices in praise and joy.

You have given us a gift beyond all measure and we ask You to help us celebrate this treasure as we live holy and peace-filled lives in Your name.

Please continue to grant our request and the needs of our brothers and sisters through St. Kateri’s intercession in her heavenly home. Amen.

Footnotes:

1 Sometime in the 16th century – most likely in 1536 – the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, Onondaga and Oneida nations banded together to form the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mohawk territory stretched from New York State to southern Québec.

2 The decision to go to war was driven by a number of reasons. In her book, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Emily Cavins writes: “The Mohawks brought captives into their tribes when their population numbers were down and the work force needed to be bolstered. The women clan leaders would decide when this type of war was necessary, and then raiding warriors would leave the village to capture their enemies. Captives were brought back to serve as slaves, and those who endured the tortures could be accepted into the tribe as full members – considered to be Mohawks, no matter their tribe of birth. … Those who were sturdy, cooperative, and brave were typically adopted into the tribe, whereas those who showed cowardice were usually killed on the spot. Some remained in the tribe as slaves to do the menial tasks of fetching firewood or water.” (Emily Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri (Cincinnati, Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2013), Kindle edition, Loc. 429 and 437/444.) Another reason for the raiding parties was the Mohawks desire to expand their domination of the fur trade. “Partly in an attempt to bolster their population and partly to ensure trading channels, the Iroquois, with the Mohawks leading the way, dominated the Northeast with raiding parties, eventually driving out or assimilating the Huron, Algonquin, and dozens of other tribes, from New England to Lake Superior. … Every non-Iroquois dreaded an ambush by these fierce and effective warriors.” (Ibid., Loc. 217/224.)

3 Cf. Emily Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri (Cincinnati, Ohio: Franciscan Media, 2013), Kindle edition, Loc. 422.

4 Although we don’t have any personal information about Tekakwitha’s father – not even his name – the Great Law of Peace (which described the leadership qualities important to the Iroquois in order to be chosen as a chief) gives us a glimpse into his character: “The chiefs of the League of Five Nations shall be mentors of the people for all time. The thickness of their skin shall be seven spans, which is to say that they shall be proof against anger, offensive action, and criticism. Their hearts shall be full of peace and good will and their minds filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the League. With endless patience, they shall carry out their duty. Their firmness shall be tempered with a tenderness for their people. Neither anger nor fury shall find lodging in their minds, and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 374/381.)

5 The Jesuit Relations described the gruesome events: “The captives had their fingernails torn off and fingers mangled by warriors chewing on their exposed nail beds until they were crushed. They also endured intense beatings. When they finally reached the village, a gauntlet of young men with clubs lined up along the steep hill to the gate. Already weak from lack of food, torture, and fear, the nearly naked prisoners were clubbed as they struggled up the hill toward a torture platform. The fainting and staggering prisoners were tied onto the platform to endure more blows, slashes from sharp shells, and burns from hot cinders. Children entered into these torture practices as well, satisfied to hear the prisoners cry out in pain. Most of the Huron captives were put to death in the process, but the Frenchmen were kept alive and eventually made slaves to families in the village of Ossernenon.” (Quoted in Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 306/313.)

6 The Jesuit Relations, vol. 31, p. 41. Quoted in Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 487.

7 Ibid.

8 We don’t know the name that St. Kateri’s parents gave her at birth. In her book, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Emily Cavins writes, “In the Iroquois tradition, babies were formally named at particular seasons of the year during traditional ceremonies. A tradition has arisen in later centuries that her name was ‘Little Sunshine’ as a baby, but in early accounts of her life this name was not mentioned. She became known as Tekakwitha after she was adopted by her uncle when she was almost five. It was not uncommon for an Iroquois to change names several times during his or her lifetimes.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 127/135.)

9 Claude Chauchetière, S.J., The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha (1659), chapter 4. Quoted in Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 551.

10 Ibid.

11 Tekakwitha’s aunts would continue to pressure her to marry as long as she lived in the village, as the concept of remaining unmarried was completely unacceptable in the Mohawk culture. Cavins writes, “When they pressed the issue and invited a boy to [Tekakwitha’s] longhouse to sit with her, she abruptly ran out and hid among the corn. So absurd to the Iroquois was this notion to remain unwed that her family treated her harshly like a slave for a period of time, hoping she would relent. To them, Tekakwitha’s refusal meant she did not care if the longhouse had enough meat, but in her heart she wanted no man for a husband.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 790.)

12 Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 650.

13 Ibid., Loc. 689.

14 Ibid., Loc. 855/862.

15 Ibid., Loc. 890/896.

16 Ibid., Loc. 918/925.

17 Ibid., Loc. 925.

18 John Freund, CM, “Saints and blesseds are the Facebook of the Church – Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha: Enduring Model of the New Evangelization,” in Vincentian Family; available from http://famvin.org/en/2012/05/16/saints-and-blesseds-are-the-facebook-of-the-church/; Internet; accessed 31 May 2016.

19 Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 989. Cavins notes that, “Many Jesuit sources mention how much the Sault (Kanawake) was similar to the early church right after Christ’s resurrection, when all lived together and shared what they had, so filled with zeal and joy that they could never cease praying or sharing the teachings of Christ and his disciples. … They enthusiastically engaged in songs, prayers, and devotions, and they embraced each new teaching with fervor. … The Native Americans at Kanawake could possibly have been one of the most devout groups of Christians to have ever lived in community.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 999/1006.)

20 Ibid., Loc. 1013.

21 Ibid.

22 It is interesting to note that certain Mohawk beliefs and practices helped them understand the mystery of the Real Presence in the Eucharist more easily than some Catholics do today. Cavins writes, “The Native Americans did understand – in some ways more than modern Christians – how the eating of a person’s flesh and drinking of their blood imparts their life into the receiver. The reason that the Iroquois ate strong warriors that they had killed was because they believed the strength of the warrior would then be passed on to them. It was not difficult for converts to understand how partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ would impart his grace and nature into their lives.”  (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 1035/1041.)

23 Ibid., Loc. 1122/1129.

24 Ibid., Loc. 1129/1136. “Our North American culture has long abandoned severe ideas of self-denial, especially in the physical submission of the body. However, the Church has given us these injunctions of self-denial – fasting, almsgiving, and penance, usually prescribed in the form of prayer, in addition to putting others’ needs before our own.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 1459)

25 It can be difficult for us to distinguish severe penance from psychologically unhealthy forms of self-mortification. Cavins writes, “Because the idea of severe penance is shocking to us today, it may be hard to look at St. Kateri as an example to follow, especially for young women who often struggle with disorders such as anorexia or cutting, which are unhealthy forms of self-mortification. The difference between penance and self-mutilation comes down to intent. The one performing penance does it in order to achieve a level of holiness and unity with Christ, whereas a self-mutilator acts out of self-loathing and as a form of control over themselves. The line is very fine, however, since many of the Native Americans at Kanawake felt that, because they had been such terrible sinners, harsh punishment was necessary.” (Cavins, Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, Loc. 1438.)

26 Ibid., Loc. 1208.

27 Ibid., Loc. 1193/1200.

28 Ibid., Loc. 1231.

29 Ibid., Loc. 1231/1238.

30 Ibid., Loc. 1252/1259.

31 Ibid., Loc. 1284/1291.

32 Ibid., Loc. 1269.

33 Ibid., 1291.

34 Ibid., Loc. 1122.

35 Ibid., Loc. 1320.

36 Ibid., Loc. 1386.

37 Ibid., Loc. 1401/1409.

38 Ibid., Loc. 1424.

39 Pope Benedict XVI, Homily for the Canonization of Seven Blesseds (Oct. 21, 2012); available from http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20121021_canonizzazioni.html; Internet; accessed 31 May 2016.

 

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