Thursday, August 9, 2012

Devotion for today: Feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is a modern day saint who can lead us past our worship of the false god of intelligence to the true God of love.

A brief biography Edith around the time of her arrest

Edith Stein was born to a Jewish family at Breslau on October 12, 1891. She was the youngest of 11 children. Her father died when she was two years old, and her hard-working and devout mother took over the care of her large family and timber business. However, Edith did not keep the strong faith of her mother, and eventually declared herself an atheist, saying: "deliberately and of my own free-will, I turned away from prayer". She was a talented student, and after finishing school with top results, she chose to study philosophy in Gottingen where she encountered many new ways of thinking which challenged her religious experiences and decisions.

Edith graduated and continued her philosophical study, achieving a doctorate degree. During this time, she went into Frankfurt Cathedral one day and saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer. She said later:"This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot". She found herself searching after the truth. One day she went to visit a young Protestant widow, uneasy about what to say to comfort her. However, she was surprised at the faith of the young woman and said: "this was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me". One night during the summer of 1921 she found herself spending several weeks at the home of a fellow philosopher and his wife. She happened to pick up the autobiography of St Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) and read it all through the night, saying to herself as she finished reading at dawn: "This is the truth".

On 1st January 1922 Edith was baptized and received into the Catholic Church. It was a decision that her mother never accepted as long as she lived. Edith continued teaching philosophy and writing, and held dreams of finding a husband and a happy marriage. However, as darkness began to break over Germany in the 1930's, she sensed another call; to unite her life with the fate of her own Jewish people. Nazi law made it impossible for her to continue teaching, so she entered the Carmelite monastery of Cologne on 14 October 1933, saying: "Human activities cannot help us, but only the suffering of Christ. It is my desire to share it". Edith took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

As the anti-Semitism of the Nazis grew, in 1938 Edith was smuggled across the border into the Carmelite Convent of Echt in Holland. However, as the war escalated and Holland was occupied, the danger for Jews spread to that country. In August 1942, as retaliation against the protests of Dutch bishops to the treatment of Jews, many Jewish Christians were arrested, including Edith and her sister Rosa (who had also converted and was living at the Carmel in Echt). They were transported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where Edith was gassed and cremated on 9th August 1942.

Her thoughts: The role and dignity of woman:
Edith has much to say to modern Western woman, who has lost sight of her destiny, her ‘feminine genius’ as Pope John Paul II called it. As a brilliant feminist scholar Edith was able to challenge certain assumptions of the day, arguing for greater involvement of women in the liturgical life of the Church, in the professions, and in the workplace. She was an intellectual leader of the fledgling women's movement in Germany after World War I. It is a remarkable tribute to her persona that she was able to harmonize these feminist aspirations with her abiding belief that at the deepest core of woman's personality one will find receptivity and motherhood. She saw receptivity and motherliness as woman's unique power, a power capable of transforming a home, workplace, professional environment, country, or society in ways that men cannot. The Edith Stein Foundation is an example of how the inspiration of Edith's life has influenced women's healthcare in the modern world.

In addition to these subjects, the life of Edith Stein can be an example to all those who are searching for the truth, especially young people. Many people in today's world describe themselves as "atheist", just like Edith once did. She can also be a friend to those who feel estranged from a family member because of religion or morals. As a highly educated and dedicated professor, she can be a role model for all those in the academic field.

 Prayer written by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross:

O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve you.
Enkindle your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me and I shall meet with peace.

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