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St. Kateri Tekakwitha and the Crucible of Sanctity

An important question for all Christians to consider is whether or not we treat the grace that Christ has given us as something cheap. We might have habituated ourselves to set patterns of religious activity. We might have our charitable causes, vaguely construed as “faith based” so as not to offend, that we choose to support. Our identity as a Christian is a fall-back position should circumstances demand that we need it as a safety net. All this is cheap grace—relatively easy, demanding little in terms of cost or conversion.

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1680 in a territory known to us today as the Canadian province of Quebec. She was a member of the Mohawk tribe. She was a Christian, and the Church celebrates her as a saint, an exemplar of heroic virtue. St. Kateri was not a great wonder worker or scholar. She did not found a religious community and never wrote any mystical or theological treatises. She was not a martyr (though she endured a low-key death to self that would challenge the bravest among us). Much of her life was spent in obscurity. A victim of smallpox, she bore the disfiguring scars of the disease on her face, which made her appearance off-putting. Poor in ways that would shock, she gave away the little she had, living in austerity and choosing less so that others might have more. A convert to the God of Christian foreigners, she was shunned by her people. As an indigenous person, she had no real place among the European colonists whose religious faith she shared.

So St. Kateri spent her days on the margins, wandering between two worlds, two peoples, neither of which had much room for her.  To her tribe, her Christian faith made her an intolerable dissenter. To the emerging colonial world, she was a strange outsider.  And it was this marginalization that would become the crucible through which she would pass, and in this way she would become holy as Christ is holy. And therein is St. Kateri’s lesson for us.

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