This past week we celebrated several martyrs. Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, wrote a series of letters to the major Churches of his day on his way in chains from Antioch to his martyrdom in Rome. He eloquently describes the fruitfulness of the martyrs’ self-giving in death, united to the death of Christ.
The North American Martyrs–Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf and their six other companions–gave their lives in the American Jesuit Mission at the hands of the Iroquois, Huron and Mohawk Nations. Their courage and self-sacrifice, which won the respect of their captors, bore witness to their faith and was also offered for the redemption of their executioners.
Today, the fruit of their offering is being celebrated in a special way in Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica. Among the six new saints whom Pope Benedict XVI is canonizing is the young American Indian, Kateri Tekakwitha. Six years ago, a five year old American Indian boy was dying from a flesh-devouring bacteria. Through the intercession of Bl. Kateri, he was miraculously healed, defying all medical explanation. Now, as a healthy teen, he is in Rome with his family and other Native Americans, to celebrate the canonization of his Patron. This is also a celebration of the faith of the American Indians who, in the past century, have been free to incarnate the Gospel through the wisdom and traditions of their native ways.
Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the daughter of an Algonquin mother and an Iroquois father, was not a martyr but she, too, lived a life of self-giving. She lived in a era when the traditions of her ancestors and the organization of their lives were undermined by European colonization, technology and diseases. In those disruptive times, the native life and culture was further marred by tribal warfare. The colonists would never let her forget her ethnic background, even as they eroded her heritage; Kateri would have become a nun had she been allowed. But native women were barred from the European sisterhoods. None the less, she devoted her life to God through personal vows, offering prayer and penance for the salvation of her people, journeying in faith, with the receptive attitude of her native spirituality, through the unpredictable challenges of following Christ.
The way of the Christian revolution to overcome the world is always and essentially through sacrificial love. It’s Christ’s way.
from a Chapter Talk by Abbot Robert Barnes