By Erik Sorensen
“It is not in this material temple God most loves to dwell. It is in us God wants to take up His dwelling place.” Attributed to Kateri Tekakwitha
Amongst the youth of the Church, the buzzword is New Evangelization. A universal call has gone out to re-evangelize the western cultures. This battle cry is inspiring my generation to get in touch with their faith in a new and more meaningful way. The question is: what is the relevance of Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Native girl, for today’s youth? I think too many people are confining this saint to being an excellent intercessor for the Native population but having little relevance for other groups within the Church. This is a huge mistake. Kateri through the example of her life has so much to teach each of us, especially the youth, as she was only 24 when she died. It is important to take this shining example of the first evangelization in North America and use it as we move forward into our secularized culture.
Throughout her short life, Kateri provided us with an example of how vital a personal relationship with God is for everyone. It should be our first priority – and I really mean first! Getting people back inside the Church building is only one small part of the new evangelization. If we cannot also help these people build a deep personal relationship with God, we have not really accomplished anything. In order to help bring people into a relationship with God, our own relationship must be healthy.
“[Kateri] never lost sight of her God and always walked in his presence.” Fr. Pierre Cholenec SJ was one of the priests charged with the religious formation of Native people in the “New World” and this quote comes from his account of Kateri’s life. In this account, he goes to great length to explain and highlight Kateri’s relationship with Christ. How did she build this relationship? The same way one builds a relationship with another person, by spending time getting to know that person. Kateri was very good at that. She would stop by the chapel multiple times a day to visit Christ in the tabernacle, and spent countless hours in prayer. How much time are we spending in prayer? How can we expect to grow in our relationship with Christ if we are not willing to set aside time to get to know him, to fall in love with him. Like Kateri we should spend time in front of the tabernacle where Christ is fully present. This was the keystone of her relationship and it should be ours.
Kateri’s example challenges us to be radical when it comes to our relationship with God. During her life, she would only spend time with people who were willing to speak about God or to pray to God. Definitely a little radical! Can you imagine if we only spoke about God or to God, like Kateri? How different our lives would be. We need to follow Kateri’s example and make our relationship with God our first priority in a radical way. Prayer should not be something that is viewed as a chore that we do because we have to, but we should want to drop whatever we are doing and pray. This level of love for God does not happen overnight but comes slowly through a developing relationship.
Through her personal love for Christ, she became a light for those around her. She became an example for everyone she met and through this example, she drew people to Christ. If people can see us hopelessly in love with Christ, they will be drawn to this love. We cannot be closet Christians in today’s society, where it is often seen as awkward or impolite to discuss religion. As youth, we have to follow Kateri’s example and not allow our society to muzzle or hide our faith. Kateri was Christian in a culture that was very cautious of Christians if not hostile to them. What did she do? She took a radical stance and pledged her virginity to Jesus Christ through a vow of celibacy. In her culture, it was unheard of not to get married, but she did not let cultural norms get in the way of her love of Jesus Christ as her spouse, and neither should we.
We need to take this example to heart and assume her role. Now, not everyone is called to taking perpetual vows but we can still let our faith, our love for Christ, be an example to others. There is much discussion on the best way to provide this example in our secular society. However we decide to do this it is important that, like Kateri, we place Christ in the forefront and let all of our actions lead to him. We do not need to make a big show of it, but we do need to show our friends the importance we place on our relationship with God. Today’s youth are searching for something to fill a void in their life. All we have to do is show them that the void is God-shaped. Do not be afraid to be countercultural; do not let Catholicism become a social taboo. Kateri was not a great preacher or catechist but nevertheless, through her humble witness, she drew many souls to God.
In this new evangelization, I think it is important for today’s youth to stop for a moment and realize that the Church has been here before. We do not necessarily need to break new ground in this task; we already have great examples of how to go about bringing people to God. Kateri shows us that the most important thing is to have a radical relationship with Christ. Through this relationship everything else will flow. Finally, I would like to encourage everyone to take the time and find out a little more about Kateri Tekakwitha. Let her inspire you as she has inspired me.
Kateri Tekakwitha……Pray for Us