July 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 12
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave would not become a lyric of The Star Spangled Banner for over a century and a half from the birth of this free and brave American. One day in the year 1656, the cry of a newborn child rang through a Mohawk village in upstate New York. Kateri Tekakwitha had entered the world. When she was only four years old, tragedy would strike her family. Kateri and her mother were infected with smallpox. The disease would kill her mother and disfigure Kateri. Relatives adopted the little girl and raised her. At the age of twenty, Kateri was baptized into the Catholic Church. Her conversion caused confusion and dismay among the members of her tribe. In spite of the intense abuse and suffering she endured for her faith, Kateri remained steadfast in her beliefs. The passage of time did nothing to temper the hostile feelings of the tribe. Finally, Kateri left her people and joined a community of Christian Indians living in Canada. Her new surroundings fostered a profound growth in her faith. Kateri became renowned for her devotion to the Eucharist and for her dedication to the care of the sick and the elderly. Death would come for her at the tender age of twenty-four. Although her life was brief, her deep faith and her outstanding acts of charity made her an inspiration for the Native American faithful. Kateri Tekakwitha has been given the sobriquet Lily of the Mohawks, but I also would call her a great Warrior of the Church.
Using terms alluding to the Church Militant has not been in fashion for quite some time. If one is attentive, one might hear a growing call-to-arms among the faithful. For the sake of clarity, I am not espousing the storming of the castles of secularism or engaging in battle, tooth-and-claw, with one's neighbors. Rather, I refer to the warrior spirit of a Kateri Tekakwitha. Her story is one of holy resistance to the warlike attitude of her tribe to her newfound Catholic faith. Kateri's firmness and persistence and her beliefs made her witness all the more powerful. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's feast day is July 14.
Threats to the Church, as we have become so aware, may come from within as well as from without. Defending the Church is not accomplished by dismissing or ignoring the weaknesses of the faithful, but by Christians prevailing over them and living the Truth of the faith. In short, believers hope that the confession and forgiveness of their sins lead them to the profession and fruitfulness of their faith. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Most people can detect the living presence of this creed in the character and values of those who truly profess it. The life of a community cannot help but be affected by the operation and manifestation of authentic Christianity in its midst.
Our advancing troops always know when they are nearing one of these mission stations, because the natives are friendly and trustful. There, some selfless man, serene in the face of death, has pursued his task of spreading education, loyalty, cleanliness, and Christian principles among flocks once turbulent and disconnected. They are forerunners of the many who would soon take up the work of the rehabilitation of the submerged populations who have lived through the storm sweeping Asia. They have cut a pathway of grace through the wilderness. Their weary hands need sustaining more than ever.
The New York Times
editorial, Oct. 13, 1944
Certain qualities contribute to the strength and purpose of a nation's people. These values define them as citizens. Responsible citizens abide by the law of the land. Devout Christians abide by the law of God. Given the influence of God's law on what has become the law of the land, usually there is harmony between the two. When, however, there is not, the believer has the right to stand, responsibly as citizens and as God's people, against them. This is the militancy not of violence, but of mission.
Contemporaries such as Pope John Paul II, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa are among the multitudes throughout history that have stood resolute against overwhelming odds on behalf of a higher morality. All of us, in our own humble way, seek to be Christ-like in the conduct of our lives. The ages may never note our contributions, but in every act that we perform expressing the best in human love and compassion serves God and society well. Is it not our own personal sphere of life where we make our stand for faith and peace and justice? God depends on us to shed what light we can. May God strengthen our resolve! Living the challenge of faith in the face of one's own sins and of the opposition of atheistic forces in the world, requires the soul of a dove and the heart of a warrior.
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