For all of us with children and teenagers in our lives—whether our own, our grandchildren, our nieces, nephews, Godchildren, or students—this time of year when the days continue to grow longer cannot help but focus our attention on the imminent arrival of summer vacation. But even as we look ahead to the next season and the coming holidays, the end of the school year inevitably leads to moments of reflection over the past nine months.
For those of us at Martyrs’ Shrine active in our ministry of school retreats, a wealth of images and graces come to mind when we consider all that has passed — but most recently, in my own prayer, I find myself reminded of those times when we introduced our younger pilgrims to St. Kateri Tekakwitha while walking through the First Nations Prayer Garden.
Those who knew St. Kateri while she lived, worked, and prayed in the forests of upstate New York recall that, like our Lord, she would often leave the company of others to speak with God in the solitude of nature. They report that as she walked through the woods, she would direct her contemplation by breaking apart twigs and lashing them together into small crosses. She may be seen holding just such a cross in her statue found close to the Sacred Heart in the church’s north transept. With each cross she completed, St. Kateri would choose some visible place along her path to leave her reminder of our Lord’s Passion, this signpost marking the way of Jesus. All who followed behind her would find through these traces a wilderness subtly yet unmistakably transformed by love into a ‘Kingdom of the Cross’.
When we introduce students to this story, we ask them to pick up a twig and follow along. Many times, the more disinterested members of a class will already have found a stick with which to distract themselves—I write this with love, because 15 years ago, I certainly would have been one of them. But through the story of St. Kateri, grace finds an opening to transform mindless fidgeting into a purposeful meditation.
Making our little crosses and leaving them behind, we suggest to the students that every act of love they choose to do serves the same two-fold purpose. Like these ‘Kateri Crosses’, in the act of doing, every act of love subtly transforms the world and participates in God’s loving gift of creation; and in the legacy it leaves as a thing done, each act of love invites those who witness it to respond in kind, to be fruitful and multiply the number of these little signposts announcing that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.