Homily for 14 July 2022 by Fr. Gerard Jonas
Thursday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time, Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Isaiah 26,7-9.12.16-19; Mt 11,28-30
St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk chief and a Christian Algonquin woman who had been captured in a raid and assimilated into the Mohawk people. She was born in Ossernenon, on the south side of the Mohawk River near present-day Auriesville, New York. The Mohawk people pronounce Kateri’s name as Gah-deh-LEE (Kateri) Deh-gah-GWEE-tah (Tekakwitha).
When she was four years old, a smallpox outbreak ravaged her village. Her parents and brother died, and Kateri herself was left with a scarred face and permanently darkened vision. Her Mohawk given name, Tekakwitha, means “she who bumps into things,” likely in reference to her poor eyesight.
Kateri Tekakwitha was subsequently raised by her uncle, who was the chief of a Mohawk clan. She was baptized at twenty years of age and, to escape persecution, she took refuge in Saint Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal.
She is associated with outsiders, exiles, orphans, and people ridiculed for their beliefs. She is also the patroness of Indigenous people, patroness of ecology and ecologists, and the Protectress of Canada.
Kateri was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII on January 3, 1943; beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II on June 22, 1980; and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012.
A priest friend once said that observably, senior citizens are prone to, and are, in fact, the leading carriers of AIDS—hearing aids, walking aids, scratching aids, retirement aids, and many others! Everywhere you see people fitted or fumbling with just about any personal gadget to help them get along in their daily lives. During this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people are seeking government aid to survive.
The short Gospel Reading today tells of how the Lord offers divine assistance, ‘come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest… Take my yoke..’ But what rest does He really offer when he is giving out a yoke. In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, one effective recommendation to avoid the spread of the virus is to get vaccinated or wear a face mask, which may be cumbersome, but what a simple price to pay for safety. It indeed is helpful, even if cumbersome, to wear eyeglasses when one’s eyesight is failing. (I remember to have started wearing trifocal eyeglasses soon as I turned 40. I cannot but admit the need to use them.)
The Lord assures that his yoke is easy. When someone is admitted to the monastery, the Rule of Benedict states that one takes upon his neck the yoke of the Rule. Monastic rules are not meant to impose limitations but are a support to effectively live out one’s monastic vocation along with others in the community. Like scaffolds, they help firm up the structure of the monastic life that enhances personal growth in one’s quest for God and His will. Notice how a simple walking stick can really do wonders in balance and mobility, or how a simple face mask can save lives.
The Lord also gives himself as an example, ‘learn from me, for I am humble and gentle of heart.’ It is only in humility can we admit the need for and so welcome assistance. It is another thing to know where and how to get trustworthy help. If I can trust my eyeglasses to help me see clearly; if I can trust a face mask and vaccine to avoid or at least lessen the impact of the coronavirus, how can I not entrust myself to Him who offers divine assistance and nurtures me so I can be worthy to be with Him in eternity?
Jesus assures us that his “yoke” is easy and his “burden” light. The “yoke” of love that He puts upon our obedient heart becomes “easy”. He gives us the grace and strength to bear it. The “burden” that faithful Christian discipleship entails becomes “light”. He fills us with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to follow him through the way of the cross to eternal glory.
News abound on how many regretfully lament losing the battle against the coronavirus for having avoided the vaccine or the simple gesture of social distancing or at least donning a face mask (and putting others at risk.)
Today’s Old Testament reading is a prophetic vision of the Jewish people singing a psalm of lament. It is a song of contrition and an expression of their trust in God who gives victory. The people remember contritely their vain efforts. They have accomplished nothing at all and whatever they seem to have achieved is the result of God’s benevolence.
Today, as we honor Kateri Tekakwitha, we pray that the through her example and intercession, we may learn to ever prefer nothing to the love of Christ and so truly benefit from His divine benevolence.