kateri

St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton — Two Saints Guiding Us Through Hard Times

Faith is not free; it comes with a cost. But that cost seems small when compared with the immense riches of grace.

Have you ever felt like a saint chose you? I’ve heard it said that it happens — they show up in your life in an unexpected way and you feel instantly connected to them. When I chose (then Blessed) St. Kateri Tekakwitha for my confirmation saint, that’s what seemed to happen with me.

When I was about 9 years old, I wrote a poem and submitted it to My Friend magazine. My Friend has now ceased publishing, but for years it was a popular children’s magazine published by the Daughters of Saint Paul. When they decided to publish my poem, the sisters sent my “payment” in the form of one of their books, a biography of Kateri Tekakwitha. I read the book immediately, and then went right back to the beginning and read it again.

The story of this Native American woman, orphaned at a young age and often treated cruelly by the relatives who raised her, captivated my imagination. I loved reading about how, at the age of 19 and with the help of Jesuit missionaries, Kateri converted to the Catholic faith. I loved imagining her peaceful prayer walks in the woods and along the Mohawk River in present day New York state, real-life places that were not far from my own home in New Hampshire.

What moved me most, however, was St. Kateri’s steadfast faith and love for God, despite the fact that she lived such a harsh life, and despite the fact that her Catholic faith cost her a great deal — socially and personally — among the Mohawk people, the tribe that was meant to be her family.

I had no such trials. I had two loving parents and eight brothers and sisters. I took my easy practice of the Catholic faith for granted; I didn’t need to make prayer spaces in the woods or sneak away to pray. I prayed every night with my family and at church on Sundays.

I looked at snowy spaces in our backyard and considered how St. Kateri used to walk barefoot through the snow while she prayed, as penance for sin. Spoiled girl that I was, I grumbled on cold winter mornings as I made my way — in warm winter boots — from my cozy house to a heated school bus.

When St. Kateri Tekakwitha embraced the Catholic faith and rejected her tribe’s customs by refusing to marry or take part in pagan ceremonies, she was shunned by the very people who should have loved and cared for her most. Family members teased her and punished her with heavy workloads, but she endured all for the love of God.

St. Kateri’s example did not discourage me. Instead, it inspired me to make a habit of praying to her, asking her intercession for my family and me, calling on her to help embolden our faith especially when being Catholic seems to cost us something, however small.

The world does not exactly celebrate our faith. You only have to take a look at Twitter or a cable news broadcast to discover that. Anyone who is serious about their faith will pay a price for it sometimes. We may not all be dramatic martyrs, but we will sometimes be the only one whose kids are not allowed to see the latest movie, or the only one who declines sports events on Sunday mornings, or the only one who speaks out in opposition to something immoral in the workplace. And these are not always comfortable things.

Another saint who knows about the cost of faith is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Converting to the Catholic faith after her husband’s death, she experienced not only the pain of loneliness in widowhood, but also, as a result of her conversion, the loss of the social support she had previously received in the Episcopalian community. Dear friends and family, particularly the younger ones, did not approve of her conversion and were suspicious of her motives.

In all of her correspondence at the time, however, St. Elizabeth Ann focused not on her pains and losses, but on the great joy she found in her Catholic faith and especially in receiving the sacraments. She loved God so much and delighted so greatly in the truth she found in the Catholic Church that the personal cost of faith mattered little.

My parish when I was growing up was St. Elizabeth Seton Church. I remember standing in the courtyard outside the church many Saturday afternoons, looking at the statue of Mother Seton surrounded by children pulling at her skirts, and asking her to help strengthen my faith and to help me make a good confession.

Years later St. Elizabeth Ann came to me again when, as a wife and mother, I was dealing with the joys and demands of family life. Her example of generous love, caring for her own children, the nieces and nephews she raised, her students, and her religious sisters is a sure source of encouragement and support when I find myself struggling. Like Kateri, St. Elizabeth Ann came to me years ago, and she continues to inspire and guide me today. I hope that the three of us will enjoy lively conversations in heaven one day.

When life is challenging — especially when it is challenging because of our faith — we should not be surprised. Jesus never promised it would be easy, but he did encourage us to have faith that He is all we need:

“In the world, you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).

When the world gives us trouble, St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton are here with us. They remind us that Jesus has conquered the world, and they teach us to lean on Him, the only one who gives us lasting joy.

DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.

Image: St. Kateri Tekakwitha stain glass, Saint Stephen, Martyr Roman Catholic Church (Chesapeake, Virginia)