By Virginia Fifield, Mercy Associate
As a Mohawk myself, I think I might have an understanding of St. Kateri that may be a bit different than the common understanding.
As a Haudenosaunee woman, Kateri would have learned the way of life we call “The Great Law of Peace.” It is not a “law” as law is generally understood, but rather a way of life. It is also not a religion, as is often thought. It is a way of life brought to us by the Peacemaker thousands of years ago. It is a way of life that regards all that is as touched by the hand of the Creator. It also teaches us that we are only a small part within the Cosmos, no smaller than a mountain but no bigger than an ant. And the word “peace” in the Mohawk language does not mean the absence of conflict, but rather a product of a society that strives to establish reason and righteousness; it is an ideology of the people, using their purest and most unselfish minds.
Upon her conversion, Kateri would not have just discarded these teachings—instead, she would have brought them into her understanding of the Gospel, and her understanding of Creation. Contrary to what is often taught, the Great Law and the Gospel are not disparate. I often think that we were living the Gospel before the Gospel was brought to us.
It is often said that because of her conversion, Kateri was mistreated and mocked. Knowing my culture as I do, I find this very hard to believe. We speak of God often and at great length, but would never question or belittle anyone because of their personal path. We are taught that there is only one Creator, but there are many paths of understanding.
My prayer to Kateri is that her message about the care of all Creation is heeded. Her message is that it is our responsibility because we have been given the minds to reason and to make things right.
All of creation was given original instructions on how to live in harmony. The elements, the animals, the fish, plant life and the birds still abide by those original instructions. It is only we two-legged, we humans, who have either forgotten or ignored what the Creator expects of us. We are doing harm to our fellow humans and to the environment. And when we do harm, we do the worst in the eyes of the Creator. If we continue to ignore the message by which we exist, and if we continue to destroy the source of our lives, then future generations will suffer. Equality extends beyond equality for people; equality is for all life. This teaching of equality is what we must relearn and understand. It is the principle by which we must continue on behalf of the future of the world.
May we take to heart what Kateri’s Native name, Tekakwitha, means: “To set things right.”