Memorial of Edith Stein Known as
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (1891-1942)
“I am a very poor Esther, but the King who has chosen me is infinitely great and merciful.” Reference to the Book of Esther C:14-16
“I believe that the Lord has called me on behalf of my (Jewish) people.”
Expose’ on Prayer
This is a story about how prayer can glory in the life of a person who longs for Truth.
Edith Stein was born on the Jewish Feast of Atonement Yom Kippur on October 12, 1891. In her youth she lost Faith, saying “I consciously decided, of my volition, to give up praying.” Instead she excelled in philosophy and women’s issues at German universities where she was influenced into the Science of Phenomenology (Empirical Research). At the onset of World War I, Edith changed direction as a nurse tending the wounded on the battlefields. After the war she returned to university and wrote “The Problem of Empathy” for her doctorate, hoping to secure a professorship but was denied because of her gender and roots.
Edith continued her search for Truth saying: “Things were in God’s plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that – from God’s point of view – there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.” This Truth stands for every one of us, too.
A turning point for Edith came in 1921 when she stayed with friends and there began reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila – “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: this is the Truth.”
Shortly after her conversion to Catholicism, Edith joined the Discalced Carmelite Order as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. By 1933, Germany was seized by the dictates of the Aryan Law of the Nazis and she could no longer teach. She began “pursuing scholarship as a service to God” by rewriting her earlier works and her main piece “Finite and Eternal Being.” The Jewish persecution began.
New Year’s Eve 1938, Sister Teresa Benedicta and her sister, Rosa, were smuggled to the Dutch convent in Echt, the Netherlands. “Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me.”
Her final writings are prolific: “The Science of the Cross and Father of the Carmelites, John of the Cross” and “The Life of a Jewish Family” recounts her own family.
Edith and Rosa were arrested by the Gestapo on August 2, 1942 and deported to Auschwitz. On the way she said to Rosa: “Come, we are going for our people.” A week later Edith, Rosa and 987 of her people were led into the gas chambers.
Her lasting prayer is her testament:
“I ask the Lord to accept my life and death so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.”
On May 1, 1987, Pope John Paul II honored “a daughter of Israel” as martyred Saint of the Catholic Church and Co-Patroness of Europe.
Edith Stein left us with a tome full of her brilliant mind and in the sacrifice of her life of prayer found the Truth, namely that love for God encompasses suffering.
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us