St. Kateri Tekakwitha teaches us to live an ordinary holiness and to confront the suffering of life with patience, Pope Francis said on Wednesday.
At his weekly public audience Aug. 30, the pope spoke about the Native American saint in his continuing series of talks on apostolic zeal.
“Kateri Tekakwitha’s life shows us that every challenge can be overcome if we open our hearts to Jesus, who grants us the grace we need: patience and a heart open to Jesus. This is a recipe to live well,” he said in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
Francis described the intense difficulties the saint faced — including the loss at age 4 of her parents and brother from smallpox, and persecution after her baptism and conversion to Christianity — and the way Kateri responded.
“All this gave Kateri a great love for the cross, the definitive sign of the love of Christ, who gave himself to the end for us,” he said. “Indeed, witnessing to the Gospel is not only about what is pleasing; we must also know how to bear our daily crosses with patience, trust, and hope.”
The pope emphasized that “patience is a great Christian virtue” needed to be a good Christian.
“May we, too, like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, draw strength from the Lord and learn to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways, growing daily in faith, charity, and zealous witness for Christ,” he said.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first native North American woman to be canonized in the Catholic Church.
In his catechesis at the general audience, Pope Francis recounted a little bit about her life.
“Born around the year 1656 in a village in upstate New York, she was the daughter of an unbaptized Mohawk chief and an Algonquin Christian mother, who taught Kateri to pray and sing hymns to God,” he said.
The pope pointed out that mothers and grandmothers are often the first people to introduce their children and grandchildren to the faith.
“Evangelism often begins this way: with simple, small gestures, such as parents helping their children learn to talk to God in prayer and telling them about his great and merciful love. The foundation of faith for Kateri, and often for us as well, was laid in this way,” he said.
While still a young child, a smallpox outbreak killed Kateri’s little brother and parents, and left the girl with scars and vision problems.
She was baptized a Catholic on Easter Sunday in 1676, at about 19 years old.
Due to persecution and death threats after her baptism, “Kateri was forced to take refuge among the Mohawks in the Jesuit mission near the city of Montreal,” Francis said.
“There she attended Mass every morning, devoted time to adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, prayed the rosary, and lived a life of penance,” he continued. “These spiritual practices of hers impressed everyone at the mission; they recognized in Kateri a holiness that was appealing because it stemmed from her deep love for God.”
Kateri also taught the children of the mission to pray and cared for the sick and elderly.
“Here we see how a vital relationship with the Lord bears fruit in the commitment to perform simple, daily works of mercy, both material and spiritual, toward one’s brothers and sisters, especially the poor and neediest,” he said.
“Faith,” he added, “is always expressed in service.”
Pope Francis said Kateri’s life shows that apostolic zeal must include “a vital union with Jesus, nourished by prayer and the sacraments, and the desire to spread the beauty of the Christian message through fidelity to one’s particular vocation.”
He also pointed out the beauty of her final words before death: “Jesus, I love you.”
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“Let us not forget: Each of us is called to holiness, to everyday holiness, to the holiness of the common Christian life,” he encouraged. “Each of us has this call: Let us go forward on this path. The Lord will not fail us.”