In her very short and intentionally lived life, Kateri nourished and achieved the kind of total self-giving that I am only feebly struggling toward day by day even after 60 years in a world that abounds with ever increasing opportunities for sanctity. I believe that because of the many virtues Kateri possessed that especially resonated with me and my unmet desires, Jesus pulled me toward my little saint. Indeed, my growing connection to Kateri would later play a vital role in restoring faith to my heart and life to my soul.
If I have learned nothing else thus far, it is that God does things in His own way, at His own leisure, and never fits the mold of our expectations of Him. The only certain thing is that in every outcome of sincere, solemn, and even unaware prayer after our eyes have been opened to His answer, we will realize new and surprising depths of His love for us.
The Canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
In the summer of 2012, with the approaching of the Year of Faith to be initiated on October 11th, I was at the climax of a three-year trial of personal darkness and spiraling loss of faith. Then it appeared: the announcement from Rome that Pope Benedict XVI had set a date for the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I was incredulous. What was God doing to me? He knew of my promise, as I did. He also knew of my crushing fears and the darkness that had been encroaching on me during the previous months. More than anything, He knew that my desperate prayers for the restoration of faith and hope in my life were being hoisted up to Him on the thinnest and only thread I had left in my pulley. How would it be possible to muster the courage to get on a plane and travel alone to the other side of the world to fulfill a self-inflicted promise, even if I could somehow get the money?
Despite the promise, a more important reason to go was pointed out to me by my mother, who was then still living and my singular support; I needed spiritual healing desperately. My mother knew of my love for Kateri and kept encouraging me to go on a pilgrimage that would take me to the canonization as I had proposed in my promise. She prayed hard for me and urged me to read the newest publication on the life of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha by Matthew and Margaret Bunson, which I did.
The money finally did come, but courage was still sorely lacking. If only someone would accompany me, but there were no takers. I would have to do this alone or not at all. It became a battle between fear that completely overwhelmed me, and trust in God, which was all but dormant but had to waken if I was to emerge from the dark.
The Last Pilgrimage
I finally signed up with the last pilgrimage leaving from Los Angeles, and at the very last minute. Even seated with seatbelt fastened on the plane, feeling the gentle mechanical motion of the awakening giant bird that embosomed me as it rolled toward the runway, hot tears rolled down my face, and a desperate urge rose within to unfasten my belt and tell the flight attendant that I must get off, before it was too late to go back. But something held me fast to the seat, and, with a numbing, quiet force, subdued my ability to seek outside help during those critical moments before take-off. We were in the air. Soon my fingers were slowly moving over my small, brass chain of polished, heart-shaped, red beads, and the life-changing prayers of the rosary were on my lips.
The pilgrimage, which took me not only to Rome but to peaceful, beloved Assisi, was a journey I will never forget. It was a journey of tears mostly, a cleansing of the soul and heart, and an enabling of faith in Christ and in His Church to re-enter, stronger than ever before. Yes, I was there at the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, as I had promised so many years before, but only by grace and quite in spite of myself. It brings a smile to my face remembering my younger daughter’s ditty of encouragement that helped me board the plane for that flight to uncertain adventure: “Bilbo, Bilbo, the bravest little hobbit of them all!”
In hindsight, I am convinced that God gave me the gift of Kateri because He knew the virtues of courage, faith, and perseverance He had mercifully and so richly endowed her with would attract my great weakness, and help me get back to Him when I most feared to lose who I was, and indeed, all meaning, in a world that places less and less value on Truth.
The journey has not ended, however. Since the pilgrimage that brought so many graces, I have gained steadily a deeper knowledge of myself, and faith in God’s infinitely merciful love, and with these, a deeper peace amidst the turmoil of this uncertain world. There remains, too, the adventure on which Kateri beckoned me from the start, that adventure to which she beckons all who love Christ. On it, we unwittingly stumble across the intrepid enterprise of following the narrow way. This is the road by which we are sanctified day by day by trying to love as Christ loves, and, thus, finding the only joy that lasts.
The Ultimate Promise Kept
At the end of the path, for all who have asked, for all who have knocked, for all who have sought with a sincere heart–as with Saint Kateri–is waiting the surprise of the ultimate Promise kept. God is the Author of this Promise. The Word made flesh in Jesus will reveal and dispense the fullness of its treasures, meeting each of us face to face with the consoling words of a promise kept, far beyond what we can imagine: “Have I not been faithful?”