August 9, 2008
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross - (Edith Stein)
Stein eventually became a leading voice in the Catholic Woman’s Movement in Germany, speaking at conferences and helping to formulate the principles behind the movement. By the time Hitler rose to power in early 1933, Stein was well-known in the German academic community. Hitler’s growing popularity and the increasing pressure on the Jewish people, prompted her to request an audience with the pope in the spring of 1933. She hoped that a special encyclical might help counteract the mounting tide of anti-Semitism.
Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic confusion, her request was not granted. By March of that year, Stein’s colleagues at the Educational Institute in Munster realized that they could protect her no longer, and so offered her a teaching position in South America. Since this would mean that her mother, now eighty-four, would never see her again, Stein felt that the time had come to fulfill her long-standing desire to enter religious life.
I told our Lord that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people; that most of them did not understand this, but that those who did would have to take it up willingly in the name of all. I would do that. At the end of the service, I was certain that I had been heard. But what this carrying of the cross was to consist in, that I did not yet know.
On October 15, just after her forty-second birthday, Edith Stein entered the Carmel of Cologne, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Stein’s family saw her entry into the convent as a betrayal, and as coming at the worst possible time, just when Jewish persecution was intensifying. Christianity was the religion of their oppressors; they couldn’t understand what it meant to her. When Stein’s mother heard of her decision to enter the convent she was crushed.
“Why did you have to get to know him (Jesus Christ)? He was a good man — I’m not saying anything against him. But why did he have to go and make himself God?” It was only after her mother’s death in 1936 that Stein’s sister Rosa felt free to be baptized as a Catholic as well.
Reports from those who were close to Sister Teresa Benedicta in those final days show her to have been a woman of remarkable interior strength, giving courage to her fellow travelers and helping to feed and bathe the little ones when even their mothers had given up hope and were neglecting them. One woman who survived the war has written a description of Stein during the time their group was awaiting transportation to “the East.” “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.” Although she did not seek death, Stein had often expressed her willingness to offer herself along with the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of her people, the Jews, and also for the sake of their persecutors. Pope John Paul II on May 1, 1987 beatified her at Cologne and then on October 11, 1998, canonized her.
A woman of singular intelligence and learning,
she left behind a body of writing notable for its doctrinal richness and profound spirituality.
Posted by Christina Whale-OCDS on 8/09/2008