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)
My grandmother died on September 22, 2009 between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A few days after her death, when I was 18, I wrote this poem in memory of her, which I just found again today:
A Tribute to My Grandmother
I first met my grandmother When I was very young She held me in her arms Before I had turned one
My family ventured to Toronto And she and grandpa came to Calgary Those times were special then Always remembered they will be
When I was only four My grandma called me near I didn’t like her nickname for me She used to call me ‘dear’
So we agreed upon ‘Mandy’ This name for only her to call me Her precocious little granddaughter And I would call her ‘Bubbie’
I remember the trips to Toys ‘R’ Us With my brother to choose toys We could pick almost anything As long as it would bring us joy
My grandma loved education And she always called me clever She knew my commitment to my education Would surely last forever
In her final years Bubbie grew old and frail But my grandpa visited her Every day without fail
I learned unconditional love Through the witness that they gave To a love that knows no bounds And to a love that is very brave
Sometimes it was hard to see my grandma Lost and confused in her mind Then I’d remember though How much her heart was refined
My grandma’s life was a gift From the God who I do praise The Lord is compassionate and loving In all His mighty ways
Ever since I was a child, writing has been my favourite creative outlet. Whenever someone would die or whenever I would grapple with the mystery of suffering and death, I would scribble words of poetry and reflection to contend and find meaning.
In addition to being a helpful outlet at the time, I find it interesting to look back on what I wrote in the past and to discover how sealing those memories through creative acts magnifies the memories I hold.
Thomas Aquinas died on this date 747 years ago. Accordingly, I decided to see what came up first with a quick search about Aquinas on death. I was led to the Summa Theologiae and, specifically, to Question 69 on “Matters concerning the resurrection, and first of the place where souls are after death.”
During his lifetime, Thomas Aquinas considered many questions that most people would never consider at all. Take, for example, Article 4 of Question 69 in which he asks: “Whether the limbo of hell is the same as Abraham’s bosom?”
I had not heard (or didn’t particularly recall hearing) of “Abraham’s bosom” but a detailed Wikipedia article discusses the concept as it appears in the Bible, Jewish and Christian history, and religious art and literature.
Several years ago, I heard the story Bosco Gutierrez Cortina, a Mexican architect who was held hostage by kidnappers attempting to extort a ransom from his family. What struck me most about his story is how he devised a disciplined schedule for himself while is solitary confinement and he resolved to make good use of his time even while being held captive. Stripped of all of his ordinary resources, attachments, and supports, he was forced to discover what he actually had within inside himself. Without books, work, family, community, means of communication, and so much more, Bosco discovered what was a matter of his inner reserves versus what he had not yet deeply interiorized and made his own.
Sometimes I think about this and wonder just how well I know my faith, my family, and my friends. If I lost the ability to worship in community and to communicate with those I love, what would I have interiorly that would sustain me amid such deprival?
These thoughts also bring to mind an anecdote shared by Cicely Saunders, the founder of modern hospice and palliative care. In her biography, Shirley du Boulay writes, “When Cecily offered to read to David Tasma [the man who became the ‘founding patient’ of St. Christopher’s Hospice], thinking to comfort him, he said, ‘No — no reading. I only want what is in your mind and in your heart.’ She never forgot that simple reaction; and mind and heart became twin poles of St. Christopher’s philosophy.”
What do we have inside ourselves with which to comfort the dying? Without props, without activities, without prestige, who do we have to give when someone says, “I only want what is in your mind and in your heart”?
Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Kobe and Gianna Bryant.
Much has been said and written about the faith of the family, and there is something that I find remarkably demonstrative of that faith in the speech Vanessa Bryant delivered at a memorial.
In her 20-minute speech about her husband and daughter, Vanessa Bryant alternated, in a subtle way that seemed very deliberate, sincere, and full of faith, between speaking in the past and present tense.