Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who was beatified in 1980.
Kateri was raised in a Mohawk clan in New York in the middle of the 17th century. Deeply affected by the preaching of Jesuit missionaries, she converted to Catholicism when she was nineteen years old.
Her conversion made her life very difficult and she was treated no better than a slave until she made a 200-mile journey to a Christian Native American village near Montreal, where she lived a life of prayer, charity and penance.
Kateri understood far better than most of us that once one we turn our life over to Jesus, we don’t really need much else. In Kateri’s words:
I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. W ith the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.
Blessed Kateri, pray for us.
When I was a Tibetan Buddhist, I was taught that when holding one’s palms together in a mudra of prayer, one should fold the thumbs inside the palms, as a symbol that we don’t come before the Buddha emptyhanded. That we always make some offering when coming to the Buddha.
As I stood in Church the other day holding my hands open befoe me as I recited the Lord’s Prayer, that Tibetan instruction came to mind. I filed it away to think about later.
When I came back and thought about it, I came to the conclusion that for me the open empty hands is a more meaningful symbol than thumbs folded inside the palms:
In one sense, the open empty hands signify that I come before the Lord with nothing. All I am and all I have comes from God, is gift from God. So I have nothing to offer that doesn’t already belong to God.
In another sense, the open empty hands signify that I come before God with everything. It signifies what Iexpress when I recite the Suscipe prayer – that all I am, all I have, I return freely to be used in accordance with God’s will. I grasp onto nothing for myself, but offer it all in service of God.
Open empty hands. Nothing and everything.
This week was our last Weekly Manna gathering and the person giving the reflection was one of our students, Robyn Brown.
Before getting to her – let me begin by observing that I was blessed by having Robyn as my prayer partner this past semester. Following our vocation retreat, I randomly assign each participant another of the participants for whom they will keep especially in their prayers over the semester. Robyn was the most amazing prayer partner one could have. While I did remember to keep the person I was assigned in my prayers periodically, Robyn let me know time and time again by notes and e-mails that she had my back. I am enormously grateful for her kindness over these months, especially when she knew I was dealing with my aunt’ last days and death.
Robyn began by asking us to visualize something we believe we need to make us happy…either something we want but do not have or something we already have and don’t want to lose. Then she asked if we could visualize ourselves laying it on the altar and inviting God to do with it as God pleases – to take away or leave it with us. Given my daily recitation of St. Ignatius’ Suscipe prayer, I live the visualization that essentially asks – do you really mean the words you pray? Can you really see yourself doing this.
She then offered some suggestions for developing our ability to do that, for growing in our ability to rest contentedly in Christ – to know that if we have Christ we need nothing else. (The last line of the Suscipe: Your love grace is enough for me.) She made five suggestions, each of which are worthwhile practices: gratitude, generosity, graciousness (particularly in speech), identifying lies, and surrender. For each, she talked a little about her own experience and shared some scriptural references that might aid one’s individual prayer.
It was a great way to end the Weekly Manna year. Great that the reflection was offered by one of our students. Great to know that so many of our students are so reflective about their faith. And great to focus on our need to realize that truly, all we need is God’s love and grace.
I’m grateful to Robyn, to all of the participants in Weekly Manna and to my friend Chato, the driving force behind the original creation of the Weekly Manna gatherings.