St. Kateri Tekakwitha: the Lily of the Mohawks Church

Excerpts from Dedication Sermon
St. Kateri Tekakwitha: the Lily of the Mohawks Church
Ridgway, Illinois
Nov. 29, 2015
The Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton
Bishop of Belleville

Dear People of God:

Jesus of Nazareth is the reason why we are gathered here this afternoon, on the first Sunday of Advent. Jesus of Nazareth asks our strife-torn world, our polarized nation, our far-flung Diocese, our Gallatin County, our new parish, and all of us to make a place in the cold stable of our hearts for the Prince of Peace to be born anew at Christmastide. He is in our midst to remind us that the days between Thanksgiving and the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word of God on December 25th are not holidays. They are HOLYDAYS!

On this historic day, Jesus of Nazareth gives us Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: the Lily of the Mohawks as an outstanding model of Christmas faith. Kateri lived a very brief life of twenty-four years (1656- 1680). Only five years of her life were lived as a Catholic Christian. She was disfigured by smallpox and ostracized by many in the Algonquin-Mohawk nation for becoming a Catholic. Yet, today, the radiant light and faith of this remarkable young woman shines brightly all the way from the Jesuit mission village of Kahnawake, in New France into all of the neighborhoods of Gallatin County. The light of her faith and brief life story shines upon Father Steven L. Beatty, whom we have formally installed as the first pastor of this new parish which has Kateri’s name, our teacher of Christian discipleship.

His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, our Pontiff emeritus, canonized her on Oct. 21, 2012 in the Basilica of St. Peter. I have chosen her as the patron saint of this new church and parish because of her singular faith which flourished in spite of family opposition, her youth (an example for young parishioners and a model for today’s catechumens).  She had the Courage to believe! And finally, I selected her in recognition of the native peoples who once lived in the parts of what is now the Diocese of Belleville.

We take strength from her as we dedicate this new church which rises above the ruins of the beloved, landmark St. Joseph Church, destroyed by a tornado on Feb. 29, 2012. This new parish embraces the territory of four parishes  that I have suppressed in this county:  St. Joseph Parish in Ridgway, St. Joseph Parish in Equality, St. Patrick Parish in Pond Settlement, and Immaculate Conception Parish in Shawneetown. While the three chapels remain for the present, this church is now to be the spiritual home and house of worship for all of you.

On this day of dedication,  we must all answer the question of Jesus of Nazareth.  Every day he comes into Gallatin County and asks the people, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” he hears many different responses. Now, looking directly in to each of our hearts Jesus asks:  “But you, who do you say that I am?” This is the fundamental question that each of us has been called to answer from the day of our baptism not only by what we say, but also by what we do!  For generations to come, thousands who assemble here must answer Jesus with one voice: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!

Here, you will encounter the Divine Presence. In the Mass, Jesus Christ is priest, altar, and victim of a unique sacrifice. You will gather in this templum dei  in times of exhilarating  joy bringing your infants to the font of Baptism, in times of brokenness and sin seeking forgiveness in Reconciliation and Confession, in times of deep love and intimate commitment to celebrate the Sacrament of Christian Marriage, in times of excruciatingly painful grief, placing the imminently gentle remains of your beloved dead before the altar for the Liturgy of Christian Burial, proclaiming in faith what you see now through a glass darkly. In death, life is not ended but merely changed!

As your Bishop, let me remind you of things we already know but which we sometimes forget. One of the ways in which St. Kateri Tekakwitha responded to  Jesus’ burning question was by her devotion to Christ present in the tabernacle, in the Blessed Sacrament. Let this new sacred space be a place of listening and, dare I say it, a place for silence. God cannot possibly speak to you, heart-to-heart, unless you are listening, unless you are silent! Make the conscious effort to retrieve the Catholic tradition of prayerful silence in church! Only in silence will you be able to turn over in your hearts to this challenging truth: The God who is God is not God the way you would be God, if you were God.

Listen attentively to the proclamation of  the Word of God. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Sacred Scripture is more nourishing than any meal; it is spiritual food. Reflect on what you hear. Chew on it and make it your own. Discuss it over breakfast with your family. Be like the children of Israel in our first reading from the Prophet, Nehemiah. As Ezra read the Law day after day, all of the Jewish people listened with unshaken attention, with awe and amazement. If you do not, you will return to your homes craving spiritual nourishment.

When the Mass ends, your “Thanks be to God” should be your commitment to heed the words of St. Paul written to the Christians in Corinth and spoken to you this afternoon. The Apostle to the Gentiles reminds you that, in truth, this building is not the church, you are! You are the hope of the Church!

“YOU are God’s building.  But each one must be careful how he builds upon the foundation, for no one can lay a foundation other than Jesus Christ. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If you destroy God’s temple, God will destroy you; for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.”

St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Pray for us!

Praise be Jesus Christ.
Both now and forever! AMEN.