MISSIONSUNDAY: CANONIZATION OF ST. KATERI TEKAKWITHA
In today's Gospel Jesus directs his disciples to "be at the service of others': He reminded them that he did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus envisioned a Church that would be outgoing, one that would cross frontiers but one that would also welcome strangers.
Today is MissionSunday. Today's gospel speaks to the work of missionaries and the role of each to invite others to know Christ. As a follower of Jesus, Sr. Patricia Spleight over ten years ago crossed frontiers leaving the comfort of her home in Irelandto work in Kenyawhere, as a registered nurse, she serves and meets the needs of others. It is Sr. Patricia who can be seen on this year's World Mission Sunday poster along with Alice, a victim of AIDS. Aliceis one of Sr. Patricia's 500 patients and lives in the slums of NakuruTown, on the other side of Mt.Kenyafrom where I ministered for nine years.
Sr. Patricia did not get a warm welcome from Alicewhen she found her on a mattress of her one room house. Alicewas angry and distressed and asked Sr. Patricia to leave. One week later Sr. Patricia returned. At that time Alicewas more open to Sr. Patricia speaking to her of her trials as a victim of AIDS. Sr. Patricia responded to Aliceby putting in place a treatment plan for her, to relieve some of her symptoms. They prayed together asking for God's healing for Alice.
Another week passed and Alice’s symptoms did not improve, in fact they became worse. She experienced tremendous chest pain. Patricia took Aliceto the hospital where she was diagnosed with TB as well. They could do little for her so sent her home.
A team of health providers taught her daughter how to care for her mother. A new mattress and blankets were provided. They shared service and faith with Alice. “If you want to be great, become a servant.” We remember today all missionaries and support them with our prayers and financial donation.
This year the celebration of World Mission Day has special meaning as it is the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Vatican2. In his message on this occasion Pope Benedict says: “The 50th anniversary of the conciliar decree Ad Gentes, the opening of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops on the theme of the New Evangelization, contribute to reaffirming the Church’s desire to engage with more courage and zeal.. so that the Gospel reaches the ends of the earth.”
“New Evangelization” : the Church struggles to share the Gospel message in language that responds to the restlessness of the contemporary person. The Church today is very aware that God is present before any human pronouncement of the Gospel. God is already working in the life and community before the missionary arrives.
In the recent document from the Canadian Catholic Bishops regarding “Freedom of Conscience and Religion”, the Bishops state: “ In obedience to Christ’s command, she proposes the Gospel to all people, which she is duty bound to do, because Jesus Christ is “the way and the truth and the life.” All evangelization is but an effort to awaken the listener’s religious freedom to desire and embrace the saving truth of the gospel. We are never to impose our religious beliefs on others, but always to respect individuals and cultures, honoring the sanctuary of conscience. The dignity of the human person demands respect for conscience, because it is “the most secret core and the sanctuary of the human person. There they are alone with God, whose voice echoes in their depths… No religion, therefore, can ever be externally imposed but must be adopted by a person “only through the process of conviction.””
St Kateri Tekakwithawas born in 1656 of an Algonquian Indian mother who was a devout Christian and a Mohawk chief who remained a pagan.
When she was a toddler, her village moved to a different location, and a smallpox epidemic spread throughout. This disease took the lives of her brother and both her parents and destroyed her own good health.. Kateri was said to have worn a blanket over her head because of the small pox that had destroyed her skin as a child.
In accord with the matrilineal traditions of her people, Kateri belonged to the Algonquin nation although she was brought up in the Mohawk community in what is now Auriesville, N Y. The VancouverSun had an article on her yesterday. It mentions that “She is not Canadian and she’s not American. She’s North American. The Iroquois owned from Albanydown to Quebec.”
The atmosphere that Kateri grew up in was one of constant change, as the Mohawks interacted with European colonists. In 1666, French troops attacked the Mohawk people, burning their villages and food supply. When a peace treaty was drawn up, one of the conditions for this alliance was that they accept Jesuit missionaries. We know that in spite of whatever was in the heart of the missionaries, they were not only Christian, they were French Colonialists. They were among the oppressors. The new-comers felt not only superior in material force but superior in spirit. We can understand the hostility among the First Nations toward the Church and the missionaries which led to the martyrdom of many.
Kateri first interacted with a missionary in the spring of 1675 at age eighteen, while resting in bed after sustaining a foot injury. She was able to move beyond prejudice and sift the wheat from the chaff. The word of Christ, the wheat, was treasured and the chaff was blown away. The integrity of the missionary was perceived, the oppression by his foreign culture was forgiven.
At the age of 20, Tekakwitha was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676, by Father Jacques de Lamberville , a Jesuit.
In time, Kateri made her way to Caughnawaga, a community of Christians, near Montreal. There she led a life of intense Christian virtue until her death in 1680 at the age of 24. Her renown for heroic sanctity soon spread and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession. She is known as the "Lily of the Mohawks".
Kateri, I admire the virtues which adorned your soul: love of God and neighbor, humility, obedience, patience, purity and the spirit of sacrifice. Help me to imitate your example in my state of life. Through the goodness and mercy of God, Who has blessed you with so many graces which led you to faith and to holiness, pray to God for me and help me.