I am fascinated by the concept of a prophet. I picture a half-crazed
man or woman, dressed in rags, looking off into the distance and
seeing things that others cannot see – then railing against
the current status quo and calling out for repentance to all who
are within earshot.
But I’ve only personally seen one person do this – a
skinny little man in a Detroit bus station. He scared me instead
of inspiring me. I don’t believe he was a prophet. At least,
I hope not. Because when Detroit’s Finest arrived, they were
none too gentle with him.
Today’s readings are about many things: Isaiah, the prophet,
rails against the hypocrites who go to great lengths to make showy
offerings but do not do the simple things like helping orphans and
widows. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also stirs the pot a bit
by saying that He comes to bring the sword, not peace. He goes on
to say “. . . whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward . . . ”.
Well I wonder just what is a “prophet’s reward?”
If it consists of what was given to the man at the bus station,
I’m thinking “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
On another note, today commemorates Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the
Lily of the Mohawks. After losing her family to a smallpox epidemic
(but surviving it herself), she dragged her disease-ravaged body
over a long and arduous trail to arrive at the St. Francis Xavier
mission near Montreal. There, she took a vow of perpetual virginity
and set about teaching prayers to children and helping the infirmed.
She died at the age of 24.**
Though I am no expert on Native American spirituality, I understand
that one facet of “medicine” held by these indigenous
peoples roughly can be viewed as something that catches the eye
or ear as unusual, extraordinary, out-of-place.
Tekakwitha, the Mohawk woman who set out to help others despite
her scarred face and diminished eyesight, probably attracted quite
a bit of attention at the mission. Those who were healthy probably
recoiled a bit from her, perhaps in fear that she may still have
the disease. Those with prejudices against the Native American people
may have mistreated her, may have wondered what of value –
if anything – she might have to offer the mission and those
who settled there. Yet, she was most likely a godsend to those orphans
and widows specifically referenced by Isaiah.
After all of the smoke cleared, after generations of trappers and
soldiers and hunters came and went, it was Kateri Tekakwitha who
was constantly remembered as the one who gave prayers to the children
and relief to the sick and aged. She was good medicine for the folks
at the St. Francis Xavier mission, just as she is good medicine
for indigenous peoples all over the world, just as she is good medicine
for all of the rest of us today.
If we were to encounter Blessed Kateri today, with her scarred face
and Mohawk ways, would we recoil? Would we let our prejudices take
control of us? Or would we look beyond her earthly shell to see
her now-beatified soul?
It is said that on her deathbed, her last words were spoken in her
native tongue, translating to “Jesus, I love you.”
Ah! The prophet’s reward!
**Some of this information was taken from the National
Tekakwitha Conference Website. Please visit the site for more
information about this remarkable woman and the efforts of those
in North America to honor her.