Today the Church commemorates two truly exceptional holy people: Saint Camillus de Lellis, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
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. With 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 Tekakwitha
Today the Church celebrates one of the scariest of the scary-holy penitent saints, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
Tekakwitha was born in 1656, the daughter of a Mohawk chief, the head of the Turtle clan, and his wife, a captive Algonquian woman who was a Catholic Christian. When Tekakwitha was four, she lost her mother, her father, and her brother in a smallpox epidemic, and she was left badly scarred and nearly blind. Her name means "she pushes all before her," and most likely refers to her habit of feeling in front of herself so she wouldn't run into stuff, but that name was also appropriate because she seemed to have a gift from childhood for domestic management, for imposing order on chaos. This talent kept her tolerated by her surviving relatives, who otherwise considered her a burden and who were upset that she would not allow herself to be married off.
When the Jesuit missioners arrived in her village, she was one of the first converts, in 1676 when she was twenty, and was baptised with the name Kateri, Mohawk for Catherine. This was to the extreme displeasure of her relatives. When their treatment of her degraded from grudging neglect to outright abuse, she left, and moved to a settlement about 200 miles away that was entirely Christian, living a life of deep prayer and strict austerity, in reparation for the sins of her nation.
When on a visit to Montreal she met some religious sisters, she was drawn to their life, and set out to form a community of sisters in her village, but was discouraged from that by the pastor; however, she herself made the vow to the counsels in 1679, becoming the first consecrated person among the Mohawk, in fact among any of the original nations of North America.
Never strong or healthy, and weakened by her austerities, she died at the age of 24 on this day in 1680.
Today is also the memorial day of Saint Camillus de Lellis, founder of the Servants of the Sick [who still thrive today, and have a motherhouse in Milwaukee].
Camillus was the son of a military officer, born in 1550. His mother died when he was still a toddler. Following his father's trade, Camillus became a mercenary soldier while still very young, fighting first for Venice and then for Naples.
Camillus also has an addiction to gambling, and lost so much that he had to take a second job working construction to repay his gambling debts. He was working on a building belonging to the Capuchin Franciscans when they brought him to conversion.
He left the military and entered the Capuchin novitiate three separate times, but injuries from his fighting days forced him to leave each time. He went to Rome seeking medical treatment, and there became a protege of Saint Philip Neri (that God-bitten character!). Camillus moved into San Giacomo hospital for incurables to live, and, eventually, became its administrator.
Aware of his total lack of education, he began elementary school at the age of 32, studying with the local children, and after long study was ordianed a priest. He formed the Congregation of the Servants of the Sick, now commonly called the Camillans, dedicated entirely to the care of the sick. Camillus honored the sick as living images of Christ.
As it says in today's Office of Readings passage, a citation from a biography written by one of his companions:
.....The mere sight of the sick was enough to soften and melt his heart and make him utterly forget all the pleasures, enticements, and interests of this world. When he was taking care of his patients, he seemed to spend and exhaust himself completely, so great was his devotion and compassion. He would have loved to take upon himself all their illness, their every affliction, could he but ease their pain and relieve their weakness.
In the sick he saw the person of Christ. His imagination was so vivid that, while feeding them, he perceived his patients as other Christs. He would even beg of them the grace of forgiveness for his sins. His reverence in their presence was as great as if he were really and truly in the presence of his Lord. In his conversations he talked of nothing more often or with greater feeling than of holy charity. He would have liked to plant this virtue in every human heart. .....
After many years of selfless service, he died on this day in 1614.