7.14
Feast of St. Kateri Tekawitha

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When it comes to the story of the Native Americans and the Christians who came to their shores, our wedding garment as the bride of Christ is stained in embarrassing places. It is good to hold the stains up to the light. It is good to do what we can to cleanse them and restore our garment’s luster. And it is not surprising that we stumble along the way.

I’m told the name “Tekakwitha” comes from a childhood taunt towards the young Kateri, who had been marked and nearly blinded by smallpox. I’m told Tekakwitha means “she who bumps into things.”

Heaven knows, “she who bumps into things” is a good name for a Christian, since stumbling is so often what we do.

Kateri’s pain must have been much like Mary’s, a young girl whose call she alone has heard and whose call confounds those who raised and love her.

The church is right to honor Kateri Tekakwitha. She followed Christ at the cost of everything. Like the first disciples, Kateri Tekakwitha left her family and her tribe, everything she knew and loved, to serve the Lord she loved even more. Her conversion brought neither honor, nor acclaim or power. There must have been times of such loneliness when she left her family’s ways and beliefs. There must have been harsh words from relatives who saw only her abandonment and not her belonging.

Some of the Europeans among whom she settled must have viewed her with suspicion and mistrust, as less than human because of her dark skin and strange tongue.

Kateri’s pain must have been much like Mary’s, a young girl whose call she alone has heard and whose call confounds those who raised and love her.

The church is right to honor Kateri Tekakwitha and other saints whose names and tribes remain foreign to us. Honoring those we have dishonored is one way to get up when we fall, one way to get back on the way. But we have to be careful, I think, that we don’t slip into “playing Indians,” that pastime of all of us who grew up on westerns and got the words “Calvary” and “cavalry” mixed up in more ways than one.

Honoring those we have dishonored is one way to get up when we fall, one way to get back on the way.  But it is important for us to remember who, finally, is “she who bumps into things.”  It is not Kateri.  We are the stumblers.  Let us ask Kateri to help us when we mistake the “angel unawares” for the dangerous other.  Let us ask her prayers when we bump into truth and curse it as an obstacle in our path.  Let us ask Kateri, the Lily of the Mohawks to be our guide.