Today is the death anniversary and feast day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha – an indigenous Catholic who was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and a Christian Algonquin mother.
During the homily announcing her canonization in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture. In her, faith and culture enrich each other! May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are.”
In honour of the occasion, I discussed the life, death, and legacy of St. Kateri with my good friend Maria Lucas who is herself an indigenous Catholic.
Check out our discussion about St. Kateri’s virtues, her willingness to chart her own course in obedience to God’s will, the ways she navigated her indigenous Catholic identity, and how she died with tremendous faith and peace at age 24.
Photo: Statue of St. Kateri at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. (2017)
One of my favourite classical texts is Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. In writing about the lives of noble Greeks and Romans, Plutarch said his intention was not so much to write history as to write edifying moral biographies.
He said, “For I do not write Histories, but Lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of necessity exhibit a man’s virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight circumstance, a word, or a jest, shows a man’s character better than battles with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays of armies and sieges of cities. Now, as painters produce a likeness by a representation of the countenance and the expression of the eyes, without troubling themselves about the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to look rather into the signs of a man’s character, and thus give a portrait of his life, leaving others to describe great events and battles.”
In introducing the life of Lycurgus, Plutarch even admits, “Concerning Lycurgus the lawgiver, in general, nothing can be said which is not disputed, since indeed there are different accounts of his birth, his travels, his death, and above all, of his work as lawmaker and statesman.”
Nevertheless, he has much to say about Lycurgus and his efforts “to make his people free-minded, self-sufficing, and moderate in all their ways.”
One section that I found particularly interesting is about burial. Here’s what Plutarch tells us:
Most people know that Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the world’s most renowned composers, but not many know that, instead of dying on this date in 1827 at age 56, Beethoven almost died before he was born.
Several years ago, this 15-minute short film called Crescendo was released. I saw an early screening of it at the G.K. Chesterton conference hosted by the film’s producer Jason Jones. (For more about that conference, including Jason’s personal story he shared there, click to my post about it here.)
Asked about the extent of creative license he took with the film, Jason told an interviewer, “There’s one piece of fiction. But Beethoven’s father was indeed an alcoholic, he was abusive, he was a philanderer. And Beethoven’s mother had written in her diary that she wanted an abortion and she was suicidal and depressed.”
“The basic approach of the rabbis in Semahot [a rabbinic text on death and mourning] is to allow sufficient space for grief while channeling it into formulaic expressions and surrounding it with numerous prescriptions that make sure its desirable limits are not exceeded. Death is a blow that must not be faced alone; it requires the support of others; the emotions it arouses must be acknowledged and given voice to; yet they are best expressed in time-tested ways that never carry mourners past the point from which they can find their way back to normal functioning within a reasonable amount of time. Mourning is not just a private affair. It is the concern of the community, which is thrown off balance if one of its members fails to recover from a death quickly enough. Life has its rights, too. If a funeral and a wedding procession meets in the streets of the town, Semahot rules, the mourners must turn aside from the path of the bride, since ‘respect for the living precedes respect for the dead.’ Should you have to choose between paying a condolence call and attending a celebration for the birth of someone’s child, choose the celebration.”
Next, Halkin recounts this story from the same source about Rabbi Akiva when his son became seriously sick:
It took far too long in our globalized, hyperconnected, twenty-first century for the world to become alarmed about the genocide committed against Yazidis and other minorities.
In 2016, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion recognizing the genocide and pledging to provide asylum to Yazidis. An ancient people indigenous to Upper Mesopotamia compose a fledging new minority here in Canada.