15th Thursday of Ordinary Time
Memorial Of St. Kateri Tekakwitha
Is 26:7-9, 12, 16-19; Mt 11:28-30
History records that St. Kateri Tekakwitha had a face that was scarred with pock-marks. When she was four, a smallpox epidemic swept through her village and killed her parents and brother. She was also left with poor vision. So it would be fair to say that she was not one of the most beautiful of women on the North American continent when she died in 1680 – that is, beautiful on the outside. And yet, of all those other women living on our continent at the time, how many can you name? So many other contemporaries of Kateri might have been more attractive and popular, but they are now forgotten. Their beauty was passing. Kateri, in contrast, is remembered and celebrated because she strove to make herself beautiful on the inside – something much more lasting and worthy of effort.
Billions of dollars are spent every year by people trying to make themselves look beautiful on the outside. Hours spent in front of the mirror, facelifts, moisturizing creams, hair implants for men – so much time and effort and expense. Just imagine what our world would be like if those same people spent half that money and exertion, instead, on making themselves look beautiful on the inside.
Kateri spent her energy on primping the virtues. When the Jesuit missionaries preached the Word to her settlement, it took deep root in her heart. She was thoughtful of others, sincere, honest, and devout. She was courageous and steadfast when the other villagers ridiculed and persecuted her for her faith. Even in the midst of the loose moral standards of her culture, she remained chaste and preserved her virginity. Despite her impaired vision, she kept her gaze on the next life and things that would last forever. But that inner beauty couldn’t help but shine forth through that rugged complexion and the squinty eyes in those last few years of her short life. Why else would the Jesuit missionaries have preserved her memory?
The average person walking around today could not get a job as a model. Most of us monks in the monastery are aging. When we look in the mirror we see wrinkles, sagging, and grey hair or no hair. If we let ourselves, we can feel a little down about that. Women in our culture are unfairly told that they have to look young and athletic. It seems silly that we place so much value on things that don’t last. No one can take our inner beauty away from us.
We will not be ashamed of the glorified body that we will have for all eternity. We will not be overweight, or too skinny or too short. We will all sparkle like jewels. And we will all rejoice in each other’s beauty, rather than somehow feel inferior.
St. Kateri would have heard the same gospel reading that we heard this morning. She had thrown off the yoke of having to look good on the outside. Imitating Jesus, she became meek and humble of heart. With her example in mind, let us listen to the words of our gospel again: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”