Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin woman. Her parents died in a smallpox epidemic – which left Kateri herself disfigured and half blind – when she was four years old. She went to live with her uncle who succeeded her own father as chief of the clan. Her uncle hated the missionaries who, because of the Mohawks’ treaty with France, were required to be present in the region. Kateri, however, was moved by their words. She refused to marry a Mohawk brave, and at age 19, was baptized on Easter Sunday.
Her baptism meant that she would be treated forever as a slave. Since she refused to work on Sundays, she was not given anything to eat on those days. She eventually took a 200 mile walking journey to the area of Montreal, and there grew in holiness under the direction of some Christian women in the area. At age 23, she took a vow of virginity.
Kateri’s life was one of extreme penance and fasting. This she took upon herself as a penance for the eventual conversion of her nation. Kateri said: “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.”
Kateri knew what it was like to be sent out like a sheep in the midst of wolves, as today’s Gospel says. She lived a very courageously Christian life in the midst of a culture quite hostile to our religion and way of life. The witness of her life, a life of virginity, penance and poverty, inspired many who knew her at the time, and continues to inspire us today. She never worried about what words to speak, because her life spoke volumes, and all of that was given her by the Holy Spirit.
We too are called to speak through our lives and our lips in witness to the Gospel. Let us all pray for the grace to speak courageously, in our words and actions, and to rely on God to give us what we need to speak in every situation.