Today I want to take a look at three saints and consider the ways in which they can help us to grow in faith. And those three saints are Saint Martha and Saint Mary from today’s Gospel and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha whose feast day was just three days ago.
Saint Kateri was a Native American from a Mohawk tribe, and she was born in 1656 in a village near Ogdensburg, New York. Four years later a smallpox epidemic swept through her Mohawk village and claimed the lives of her parents and her baby brother. She survived the disease, but it left her eyesight impaired, and her body was scarred. It also left her physically weak for the rest of her life.
After her parents died, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle. In 1674 she met a Jesuit missionary and expressed her desire for baptism. Two years later she was baptized on Easter Sunday and[i] was given the name Kateri. In August 1677, Kateri left her village and moved to the St. Francis Xavier Mission near Montreal Canada.
Her days were devoted to teaching prayers to children and helping the sick and visiting the elders of her community until she became very frail and weak. On April 17, 1680, she died at the age of 24. Her last words were: "Jesus, I love you." Soon after she died, Catholics began to claim that favors and miracles had been obtained through her intercession.
Saint Kateri was canonized by Pope Benedict in 2012 and her feast day is July 14. Her canonization is important because it means that Native American Catholics have a saint of their own. They say, “We have always considered her to be a saint and we are pleased that the whole church now recognizes her sainthood.” Her sainthood was based on her life of prayer.
Kateri often went into the forest to pray. She went alone - to speak to God and to listen to God in the voice of nature. She was listening to the voice of God in the trees and in Native American spirituality the trees always speak about peace.
The bishop of Ogdensburg, New York recently said, “Kateri was a child of nature, and her sainthood inspires the minds and hearts of those who love nature and work for ecology.” Pope Francis has declared her to be a patron saint of ecology. Her sainthood challenges us to take better care of God’s creation. Everything comes from the hands of God and therefore everything deserves our highest respect and care.
Moving on to Saint Martha. When Jesus came to Bethany, Martha welcomed him and prepared a meal for him. However, in today’s Gospel, Martha doesn’t look so great because she is worrying about too many things and Jesus says that her sister has chosen the better part.
But in John’s Gospel, Martha looks like a hero and Mary looks like she is out of touch with what is happening. After Lazarus dies, Martha goes to the gravesite to grieve for her brother and Mary doesn’t even show up. John’s Gospel says that Martha has great faith. She believes that Jesus has so much healing power that he could have healed her brother, if only he had been there. Also, she believes in the Resurrection. She believes that her brother will rise on the last day. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. If you believe in me, you will never die. Now, do you believe this?” And Martha says, “Yes, Lord, I do believe.” At the gravesite of Lazarus, Martha has great faith.
Martha failed the test of hospitality in today’s Gospel; but she passed the test at the gravesite of her brother. Hospitality is all about paying attention to your guest. And that is what her sister Mary did. Mary was listening carefully to the words of Jesus.
Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His words. And His words fed her soul. She had spiritual needs and His words fed her soul.
I will close by bringing forward three lessons from our three “saints of the day.” Saint Kateri challenges us to care for God’s creation with the belief that “Everything comes from God.” She calls us to remember the words of Psalm 24: “Everything belongs to the Lord.”
Martha and Mary challenge us to remember that here are two kinds of hospitality and we should do both. Prepare the meal and listen to the guest. In both actions we will meet the Lord. Martha was preparing the meal and Mary was listening to the guest.
The bottom line is this: God is calling us to care for His creation and to care for our guests.