Reflecting on Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

July 14 is the Memorial for Blessed [now Saint] Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), the Native American daughter of a Christian Algonquin woman (who herself had been captured by the Iroquois) and a non-Christian Mohawk warrior-chief. Blessed Kateri is a patron of ecology and ecologists, of the environment, environmentalism, environmentalists, exiles, orphans, the exiled, those ridiculed for their faith and for World Youth Day.

Our friends at the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center (formerly the Catholic Conservation Center) provide a comprehensive biography of this amazing young woman—the first Native American on the path to sainthood. In this biography we hear from Bishop Stanislaus Brzana of Ogdensburg, N.Y.:

Kateri was a child of nature. Her sainthood will raise the minds and hearts of those who love nature and work in ecology.

As you read more about this woman, you’ll see the intimacy with which Kateri found God in the natural world. She was this “child of nature” in her birthplace—what is now upstate New York—and in her later home of refuge, near what is now Montreal. For this intimacy, the Church declared her the patroness of ecological and environmental causes.

Of course, as a Native American, Kateri would have lived a lifestyle considered primitive to the European settlers that baptized her. But is this not what (then and now) intrigues so many? For instance, her propensity of making crosses from sticks—and then hanging them from trees as “stations” at which one should be reminded to pray—is a charming example of the Christian’s task to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout all creation. As her biography tells us, “she often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature.”

Does this not remind us of the following words of Blessed Mother Teresa?

We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.

Because Kateri so easily found God in creation, she is so easily associated with ecological protection and environmentalism—modern concepts that would have been incomprehensible to the people of her day, living long before worldwide ecological damage wrought by modern technologies and lifestyles. Which is why today, where far too many Catholics shun an overt appreciation of nature—partially in response to far too many other Catholics elevating nature seemingly to divine status—Kateri and the Magisterium’s response to her life should remind us all of the place of nature in our faith.

To this point, it is stunning that her feast day precedes by one day that of St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)—indeed, in Blessed John XXIII’s Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, July 14 is his feast day. What brilliant coincidence!

Bonaventure, too, knew and taught that creation held signs that could lead one to the Triune God. Read the passage below from his Journey of the Mind to God.

He Who is the image and likeness of the invisible God [Col.,1, 15] and "the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance" [Hebr., 1, 3], He Who is everywhere through His primal generation, as an object generates its likeness in the whole medium, is united by the grace of union to an individual of rational nature--as a species to a corporeal organ--so that by that union He may lead us back to the Father as to the primordial source and object. If then all knowable things can generate their likeness (species), obviously they proclaim that in them as in a mirror can be seen the eternal generation of the Word, the Image, and the Son, eternally emanating from God the Father.

In this way the species, delighting us as beautiful, pleasant, and wholesome, implies that in that first species is the primal beauty, pleasure, and wholesomeness in which is the highest proportionality and equality to the generator. In this is power, not through imagination, but entering our minds through the truth of apprehension. Here is impression, salubrious and satisfying, and expelling all lack in the apprehending mind. If, then, delight is the conjunction of the harmonious, and the likeness of God alone is the most highly beautiful, pleasant, and wholesome, and if it is united in truth and in inwardness and in plenitude which employs our entire capacity, obviously it can be seen that in God alone is the original and true delight, and that we are led back to seeking it from all other delights.

Does one not hear echoes of Kateri, who “often went to the woods alone to speak to God and listen to Him in her heart and in the voice of nature?”

It is fortuitous for us in the Northern Hemisphere, when summer surges with the life and light of nature, that Blessed Kateri and St. Bonaventure are to be remembered.

For the saint and doctor of the Church, more will be coming later on these pages. But for now, let us familiarize ourselves with Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, and let us pray to her for wisdom and for peace in sharing in the sometimes simple and sometimes awesome beauty of the created world, which in the beginning God made team with life and found it all to be very good.

For more on Blessed Kateri, read the commentary about her at CatholicCulture.org.

About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.