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American Saint: Kateri Tekakwitha


It’s a unique last name for our English-speaking tongues. But it isn’t her last name at all. It’s her nickname. A mocking title given to Kateri by the members of her village after she lost most of her sight and all of her family from smallpox as a child. Tekakwitha. The one who bumps into things. Kateri who can’t see straight. The one who walks groping for her way.

But this girl, this young, brave, nearly blind girl did something that even us with perfect vision might never be able to do. At the age of nine-teen, she walked 200 miles from her village in New York to the Jesuit Native American Mission near Montreal, Canada. As any able-bodied individual can attest, hiking in the Northeast is a tricky endeavor. There are boulder fields and tree roots and canyons that can catch even the most vigilant traveler by surprise. But she traveled those 200 miles without a man-made path to guide her. She crossed streams and climbed mountains, guided by the only light that she could see. In the darkness of her life, she saw the distant glimmer of her Royal Bridegroom and pursued that light, no matter how difficult the journey.

She walked, fumbling for her way, across the forests of the Northeast. But she did not journey alone. She was guided by her Heavenly Mother. She was inspired by her name’s sake, Saint Catherine of Siena. Her path was set straight by her Eternal Lover. Grasping His hand and following in His footsteps, she crossed the wilderness to reach her new home.

At the mission, she was able to partake in the second meaning of her name: “The One Who Puts Everything in Order.” Free from the persecutions of her family and village, Kateri was able to dedicate her life to God. She spent her days in worship, waking up early and waiting outside the chapel until the doors were opened for Mass. She would remain there long after the last Mass, gazing upon the one light that shone through the darkness.

When at prayer, she would leave crosses made out of twigs in the woods. She made them as reminders, as markers in the journey of life. They outlined the way home; sacrifices and sufferings that made the path a little clearer for those who would come after her.

To Kateri, Christ was the pinnacle of her life. To Him the morning belonged, for Him the labor of the fields was completed, from Him no moment of the day could be withheld. She is recorded saying that “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love.” And with her whole heart she pursued that desire. At the age of twenty-four she passed away, her lasts words summarizing the entirety of her life: “Jesus, I love you.”

Within hours of her death, all of the scars that had marred her skin had vanished. The veil obscuring her vision had also been lifted, as in Heaven she gazed without shadow on the face of her Beloved. In Heaven, she no longer had need to grope for her way. Instead, she could run uninhibited to the arms of Jesus and rest at last in her one true home.

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