O LORD, oppressed by your punishment,
we cried out in anguish under your chastising.
As a woman about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pains, so were we in your presence, O LORD.
We conceived and writhed in pain,
giving birth to wind;
Salvation we have not achieved for the earth, the inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.
But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.
For your dew is a dew of light, and the land of shades gives birth.
Today we celebrate the Mohawk saint Kateri Tekakwitha. A virgin ascetic and orphan, she died as a young woman in a French Jesuit village at the age of 23. As we honor her we should perhaps remember her also as a survivor of small pox, a now-extinct disease that afflicted only human beings and decimated the indigenous peoples of North America.
In many ways her story is unfinished. We have yet to assimilate Native American history into the other histories that have come to North America during the past six centuries. In the meanwhile, romantic conspiracy theories abound.
I call them "romantic" in the sense that these various stories inevitably promote a certain agenda or ideology. Their promoters insinuate, "Here is the explanation. We understand not only what is happening but what must happen. This destiny will certainly, inevitably work itself out as the future unfolds."
They are "conspiracies" in the sense that they suppose someone or some group of people actively conspired to promote their own wicked ends against hapless victims. In the story of Kateri Tekakwitha, they might be the French, the Jesuits, Catholics or Christians in general.
In every case they dismiss the possibility that the Holy Spirit engaged the young woman and drew her into the life of God even before she adopted the Catholic faith.
Does the text I have cited above, from the Prophet Isaiah, describe the doom of a devout woman called to chaste celibacy or the doom of a human culture unacquainted with the Holy Spirit?
Chaste celibates -- or as Jesus called us, "eunuchs for the kingdom of God" -- challenge every culture that would use the mystery of sexuality for its own purposes. We say, in effect, "Your understanding of sexuality lacks depth. It does not recognize the divine calling at the heart of human existence."
Our western culture seems to think everyone should marry somebody somehow. If not one of the opposite sex, then one of one's own sex. If not to have children, at least for love and companionship and to avoid loneliness. Even if you have tried marriage several times and failed each time, keep trying! There is someone out there for you -- and you must find her/him or you'll never know happiness/satisfaction/salvation.
In two different episodes in my memory I wondered why the young women were getting married. Their mothers said, "...for the presents;" or "...for the wedding dress."
Celibacy for the Kingdom of God says to that mad culture, "You are writhing in pain and giving birth to wind."
Of course, they say the same thing back to us.
That is the crisis of faith. Celibate chastity comes from the future where the Kingdom of God appears, and no one knows how the future must unfold. Will the Kingdom appear this year or next? In this lifetime? Saint Paul, during his early missionary career, apparently expected it was imminent. Some preachers still think it might arrive "before -- I finish -- this -- sentence....!" Later New Testament writers apparently settled in "for the duration" and were less obsessed with its immediate appearance.
Those chaste celibates who actually feel content with their calling might point to their contentment as proof of God's blessing, but they will almost certainly be shouted down. And rebuked for the number of cranky old spinsters who never found serenity in religious life, not to mention the catastrophic failures. No one will ever prove the Gospel with statistics.
Rather, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, as on the light in a dark place. We thank God for the Church which provides a kind of safe harbor for our way of life, and we greatly admire saints like Kateri Tekakwitha who heard God's voice and followed her lonely calling despite the opposition of her family, people and culture.