Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Witnesses to the faith in the Year of Faith

November 4, 2012

In recent weeks, Pope Benedict XVI has proclaimed as doctors of the church two saints noted not only for their holiness but also for their learning. One of these is St. Hildegard of Bingen, in what is now Germany. She lived from 1098, the year after the calling of the First Crusade to free the Holy Land from Muslim control, to 1179. Her teaching and writings have become better known in recent years, largely because the breadth of her learning reached to music and medicine, and her vision of the faith in daily life and in the political currents of her time make her a model of the discerning spirit that bears witness to the action of the Holy Spirit. An article about her by Avis Clendenen of Saint Xavier University will appear in the next issue of the Catholic New World.

The pope also, at the beginning of the Year of Faith for the whole church, canonized seven disciples of the Lord from various parts of the world. Among those declared exemplary in living the faith were Mother Marianne Cope (1838- 1918), a Franciscan sister who left New York State to go to Hawaii, living with the lepers along with St. Damien of Molokai and continuing to work there long after his death. Also declared a saint of the church was Peter Calungsod, a lay catechist born in Cebu, Philippines, and martyred on the island of Guam on April 2, 1672. His canonization has heartened the local Filipino Catholic community, which gives such constant witness to the vitality of the Catholic faith here.

The canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) brought American Indian pilgrims from Chicago to Rome for the ceremony. The native community gathers regularly at the Kateri Center, housed in the former convent at St. Benedict Parish on Irving Park Road. Kateri was a Mohawk, a tribal people who lived on this continent long before its land mass was called North America and very long before there was a United States of America. She lived in what European colonists then called New France, at a time when what is now Chicago was also claimed by France. (See stories on Pages 16-17 about the canonizations.)

French Jesuits preached the Gospel among the indigenous peoples. St. Isaac Jogues and St. Jean Brebeuf, the patrons of two parishes in the archdiocese, were martyred about 10 years before Kateri was born. She was orphaned at the age of four when a small pox epidemic killed her parents and almost killed her. She suffered ill health all her life and lived among people hostile to her conversion to the Catholic faith. One source of hostility to her was her refusal to marry. In a tribal society, one is not really an adult member of the tribe without having children. She declared herself married to Jesus, grasping a core value of the Gospel that makes it a source of scandal in every culture.

Kateri’s witness to celibate chastity is most important today, when our society equates having sex with being an adult. In every age, those who would “reform” the church according to their own lights invariably begin by abolishing celibacy for the clergy and then destroying the monasteries of religious men and women. Some have spread ridiculous stories about Jesus himself being married, perhaps because they are desperate to destroy a sign of contradiction to the sexual profligacy of the lifestyle of many in our own society.

Kateri’s steadfast witness is as incomprehensible today as it was in her time. The Gospel is an original voice in every society. Kateri Tekakwitha is therefore a saint important not only to the descendants of the native pre-Americans but also for all of us. She lived the faith in an atmosphere of constant opposition and without the support of those she lived with. She loved the Blessed Sacrament and was long-suffering and meek with all; but she was also resolute, even stubborn, in her life of faith.

The Holy Father has declared a Year of Faith, beginning this past Oct. 11, on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, and concluding on Nov. 24, 2013, the solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King. A number of initiatives in the archdiocese are being designed to help us all grow in our knowledge of the faith and in our participation in sharing it among ourselves and with others. If a family doesn’t possess a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this is a good time to buy one and read it over the course of this year.

Pope Benedict has also reminded us of the reason why we should be hopeful in the midst of difficulties in professing and living the faith. He said recently that “the desire for God, the search for God, is profoundly inscribed in each human soul and cannot disappear.” For this reason, we should recall that the truth of the Gospel is eternal. By contrast, ideologies, political and other, have their days numbered. “They appear powerful and irresistible but they wear out and lose their energy because they lack profound truth.” The Holy Father mentioned the dissatisfaction of young people today with “proposals of the various ideologies and of consumerism.”

The faith opens our minds and hearts to eternal truth, the truth about God and, therefore, the truth about who we truly are. We are called to join the ranks of witnesses to the faith, along with the saints of every age; and the One who gives the call also gives us the strength to live it faithfully. God bless you.