Today is our saint day! In case you missed the last few installments, head there and have a look!
Tiffany at Life of a Catholic Librarian, and I thought we would work share St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Please head over for her installment of St. Kolbe, a very powerful saint!
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was born into a devout Jewish family on Yom Kippur (the day of Atonement) as Edith Stein in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) in 1891. She was canonized a saint October 11, 1988 by St. John Paul II. Her life is marked with phenomena, atheism, persecution, martyrdom and philosophy – to name but a few twists and turns in her life.
She decided in her teenaged years to turn away from faith altogether in a conscious decision to stop praying. An atheist now, she was one of the first women to be admitted to University in Germany, studying philosophy, specifically, phenomenology under its founder, Edmund Husserl. Phenomonology is the study of the structure of experience and consciousness. An interesting topic for an atheist, don’t you think?
One summer in 1921, Edith was vacationing with some friends and picked up, by chance *wink* a book by St. Teresa of Avila and read it in a night. That very next morning, she knew the Catholic faith to be the truth and bought a missal and the Catechism of the Catholic Faith. Edith was 29 years old. This is my kind of conversion.
With the rise of Hitler, came anti-semitism and that meant Edith was one of the many targeted. Her colleagues tried to convice her to leave Germany and offered her a teaching position in South America, but that meant leaving her mother, who was elderly at this point and very frail, forever. Edith simultaneously felt a strong call to the religious life. Her strong Carmelite beginnings would prove to shape her life, as at age 42, she entered the Carmel taking the name St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her mother was devastated at the decision and couldn’t understand why Edith would run to Christianity, the faith of their oppressors? It was only after her mother died in 1936, that her sister, Rosa joined the Catholic faith.
Edith was still not safe, and after Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, the nuns of her convent thought to move her to another convent, secretly in the Netherlands and her sister, Rosa, followed as a Third Order Carmelite.
Kristallnacht means “Night of Broken Glass” where a series of coordinated attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria were carried out by SA paramilitary forces and non-Jewish civilians. At least 91 Jews were killed in the attacks where windows of buildings and synagogues were smashed sending shards of glass everywhere. Some 30,000 were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.
Sensing their danger once again, plans were made to move Edith and her sister Rosa to Switzerland. At the time, the Dutch bishops submitted an encyclical against the anti-semetic attacks taking place by the Nazi’s. The Gestapo, without hesitation, began to round up all Roman Catholic Jews to be sent immediately to concentration camps to be kills. Both Edith and Rosa were arrested on August 9, 1942. They were deported to Auschwiz and executed a week later. Edith was just fifty years old.
A concentration camp survivor had this to say about her:
Maybe the best way I can explain it is that she carried so much pain that it hurt to see her smile…In my opinion, she was thinking about the suffering that lay ahead. Not her own suffering — she was far too resigned for that — but the suffering that was in store for the others. Every time I think of her sitting in the barracks, the same picture comes to mind: a Pieta without the Christ.
I think, she is the Pieta and the Christ, figuratively speaking. She was in love with Christ, died for Christ and was the Christ others would encounter through her in concentration camps, caring for people and feeding and bathing them, especially the little children whose mothers had given up hope, knowing they would soon die too; all the little children.
I found a lovely novena to this great saint, following the course of her life from the time of her arrest to her murder. My husband will be visiting Wroclaw, Poland for work in October and promised to visit her preferred church for me, Church of Saint Michael the Archangel. There is altar situated to the left for her, and in the center of the chapel there is a marble altar with the date of her death engraved, as well as an urn containing earth and ashes from Auschwitz-Birkenau, and other relics. I am hoping I can also convince him to take the right just at the entrance of the church, when he leaves and walk down the street named after her. This street is also the path St. Terese Benedicta of the Cross would walk from her mother’s home, to the church and back. To walk in the steps of a saint such as this. I am hoping he can somehow bring some of her, back for all of us.
Finally, the new saint teaches us that love for Christ undergoes suffering. Whoever truly loves does not stop at the prospect of suffering: he accepts communion in suffering with the one he loves. Aware of what her Jewish origins implied, Edith Stein spoke eloquently about them: “Beneath the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s People…. Indeed, today I know far better what it means to be the Lord’s bride under the sign of the Cross. But since it is a mystery, it can never be understood by reason alone”. The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life, spurring her to the point of making the supreme sacrifice. As a bride on the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did not only write profound pages about the “science of the Cross”, but was thoroughly trained in the school of the Cross. Many of our contemporaries would like to silence the Cross. But nothing is more eloquent than the Cross when silenced!
A prolific writer and vocal about women’s role in society from a vocational standpoint as well, I invite you to read some of her work which also include spiritual works.
In the meantime, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, please pray for us.
Now for some St. Maximilian Kolbe intercession at Tiffany’s house. See you next month for our Church Triumphant series!