Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross OCD

(Edith Stein)  Feastday 9th August

Edith SteinAt her canonisation in 1998, Pope John Paul II said “Edith Stein liked freedom.  She broke away from her family ties.  She even “consciously and deliberately stopped praying” at the age of 14.  She always wanted to make her own decisions; … family, school, college, career, working as a nurse, friends ….  And yet, at the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realization: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free”

Edith Stein was born in Breslau on 12th October 1891, the youngest of 11 in a Jewish family.  Her father died when she was 2 years old.  Her mother, who had to work very hard to bring up the family, did not succeed in keeping up the faith of the children.  Edith lost her Faith in God and, as Pope John Paul quoted from her, “I consciously decided, of my own volition to give up praying”

At University she studied Philosophy and women’s issues.  She became a renowned philosopher and associated with a very academic set of people and, as she wrote later, during her first years at University, she was a radical suffragette.  On several occasions during her studies she unwittingly came upon evidence of the value of Christian Philosophy but carefully avoided becoming involved.

One day, during her time lecturing at Freiburg University she happened to notice a woman with her shopping bag going into the Cathedral at Frankfurt and kneeling to pray.  “This was something totally new to me.  In synagogues and Protestant churches people went for services only.  Here someone was going as if to have an intimate conversation.  This was something I never forgot”.  This simple, ‘everything day’ thing struck a chord with her.

Then in 1917 a friend of hers was killed in action and she went to visit his widow who had converted to Protestantism.  She felt uneasy at first, but was surprised when she actually met with a woman of faith.  “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it …it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross”.

The next year she gave up her job as a lecturer and after reading the New Testament, Kierkegaard and St Ignatius Loyola she felt that one could not just read books like this, but had to put something of what was found in them into practice.  She then read St Teresa of Avila.  “When I finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth”.  Later she wrote: “My longing for truth was a single prayer.”

Edith Stein was baptised a Catholic on January 1st 1922.  She then went back teaching and writing.  She studied Cardinal Newman’s diaries as well as other great theologians and eventually accepted a lectureship at the University of Munster.  She had found a way of leading people to God.  War broke out in 1933.  It became impossible for her to continue teaching and leading people to God.  “I had become a stranger in the world”.

She entered the Carmelite Convent on 14th October 1933.  She didn’t consider that she was abandoning her family and friends; “Those who join the Carmelite Order are not lost to their near and dear ones, but have been won for them, because it is our vocation to intercede with God for everyone”.

When she made her religious profession on 21 April 1935 she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

When the anti-Semitism of the Nazis became apparent, the nuns of the convent smuggled Teresa to the Netherlands.  She wrote her will; ”Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me.  I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death”.  She was arrested by the Gestapo on 2nd August 1942 and deported to Auschwitz.  The last words she spoke as she left the convent with her sister were; “Come Rosa, we are going for our people”

Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, with her sister, Rosa, were executed by gassing at Auschwitz concentration camp on 9th August 1942.

 Pope John Paul profoundly summed up the life of this extraordinary woman

“A daughter of Israel, who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness”.