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The White Martyrdom of Kateri Tekakwitha

By PaulaAnne SharkeyLemire

Sine sanguine martyr

There are several common mistakes that appear from time to time when one reads about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. One is that she was a nun; though Kateri took a vow of virginity, she never became a nun. Another is that she was martyred. A martyr is one who is killed for their faith. Kateri’s death came at the end of a long illness. Though her life was indeed threatened and she would have gladly surrendered it for love of Christ, Kateri was not murdered for that wonderful, radiant love.

But there are two kinds of martyrdom, the red and the white.

Red martyrdom occurs when a person sheds their blood for Christ. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many of these brave souls who died rather that forsake the Lord. Many of their names are very familiar and form a litany of courage and trust in God; Stephen, Lawrence, Justin, Polycarp, Sebastian, Paul Miki, Maximilian Kolbe, Agnes, Lucy, Agatha, Cecilia, Apollonia, Edith Stein, and Maria Goretti are just a few. Kateri Tekakwitha herself was born at Ossernenon, the same village where three Jesuit missionaries - Rene Goupil, Isaac Jogues and Jean Lalande - were martyred.

The second form is called white martyrdom. This is a martyrdom without blood, without the violent taking of life. White martyrdom is a total offering to God, a “dying” to the world and its allurements. A white martyr willingly gives up worldly concerns and makes his or her life a perpetual pilgrimage. A white martyr lives a life of heroic devotion for Him alone, eagerly uniting that devotion with Christ’s sufferings.

Was Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha a white martyr? Let us look at the life of this humble young woman now revered as the Lily of the Mohawks and see if she was indeed sine sanguine martyr (a bloodless martyr).

Kateri was born in 1656 to a Mohawk chief and a Christian Algonquin woman. At the age of four, she lost both parents when smallpox devastated Ossernenon. Kateri herself suffered from the disease and was left with impaired vision and a scarred face. She was raised in the home of her uncle, an influential chief who disliked the French missionaries who worked to spread the Gospel among the Mohawks. Despite her uncle’s distrust of these “Blackrobes,” young Tekakwitha was deeply impressed by the Jesuits who visited her village. At the age of twenty, she was baptized by one Father Jacques de Lamberville.

Kateri Tekakwitha’s family and neighbors persecuted her for her embrace of the Blackrobe’s religion. It was almost immediately after her baptism on Easter Sunday, 1676, that her white martyrdom began. Overnight, she went from adopted daughter to household drudge. She was continually mocked and insulted for her faith. Often, when Kateri would not work in the fields on Sundays, her relatives refused to let her eat. She accepted the menial work, the abuse, and the forced fasts with humility and grace.

One day, Kateri was along in her family’s longhouse when a man burst through the door. He raged at her, brandishing a club. He threatened to kill her if she did not renounce her baptism. Kateri showed no fear in the face of his wrath. She quietly told him he could take her life if he wished, but she would never let him take her faith. As Kateri bowed her head and entrusted her soul to God, it seemed as if she would indeed face red martyrdom. Instead, her serenity unnerved her would-be killer. He threw aside his weapon and fled in the face of that gentle courage.

On the advise of Father de Lamberville, Kateri finally left the land of her birth - the Mohawk Valley in what is now upstate New York - and fled over two hundred miles to a Jesuit mission near Montreal.

It was there, at the Saint Francis-Xavier Mission on the Sault Saint-Louis, that Kateri spiritual life and her white martyrdom flowered like a lily that had been transplanted from tangled thorns.

From her earliest days as a Christian, Kateri Tekakwitha had two great desires. One was to do what was most pleasing God. The other was to receive the Eucharist. We don’t know exactly what the missionaries and Kateri’s mentors taught her of Holy Communion. But we do know that their lessons, like the seeds in the parable, found very fertile ground in Kateri’s heart. From her earliest days as a Christian, she was drawn to the sacrament and eagerly awaited the day she might receive Our Lord herself.

Only a couple of months after her arrival at the Mission, Kateri was permitted to receive the Body of Christ for the first time. Her joy at that moment was beyond description. From then on, having fortified her soul with the Bread of Angels, Kateri began to gradually withdraw from the world and its concerns.

Even before her conversion, Kateri had resisted attempts to have ...

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1 - 2 of 2 Comments

  1. shannon
    1 month ago

    What bible do you guys get all of this type of stuff from? Read the bible and use that as your guide.

  2. Elaine Orlen
    5 years ago

    I would like to read more articles on white martyrs.

    Could you send me the name of some books. I believe one was written by
    Bishp Dolan

    Thank You!

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