August 9: ST. TERESA BENEDICTA OF THE CROSS (Edith Stein).
Co-patroness of Europe.
Virgin and Martyr.
Philosopher, Jewish convert, professor, Discalced Carmelite nun.
- SHORT BIO
- EXCERPT OF POPE JOHN PAUL II’S MOTU PROPIO DECLARING ST. TERESA BENEDICTA OF THE CROSS AS CO-PATRONESS OF EUROPE (October 1, 1999)
Born into an observant German, Jewish family, but an atheist by her teenage years, St. Edith Stein (1891–1942) was a philosopher, disciple and teaching assistant of Edmund Husserl (founder of the school of phenomenology). She had a burgeoning academic career as a professor in the University of Freiburg but was declined a professorial chair in the same university because Husserl declined his support to her habitational thesis which is a prerequisite for an academic chair for being a woman.
During the summer of 1921, Edith Stein read the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila which led to her conversion to Christianity in 1922 and was baptized into the Catholic Church. After a long teaching stint in a Dominican nuns school in Speyer and in Catholic Church-affiliated Institute for Scientific Pedagogy in Münster from 1922-1933, the year when she was forced to resign by the Nazi government’s antisemitic laws, Edith entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in the Our Lady of Peace Monastery in Cologne in 1933, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Although she moved from Germany to the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution, in 1942 she was arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died in the gas chamber.
Dear friends, through the intercession of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, let us pray for all those who do not believe in God’s existence so that moved by divine grace, they may search for the Truth with honesty and sincerity, rejecting any preconceived bias and prejudice, and arrive at the knowledge of and faith in the Triune God. Let us also ask God through the saint’s intercession for the re-Christianization of Europe.
God of our Fathers, who brought the Martyr Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to know your crucified Son and to imitate him even until death, grant, through her intercession, that the whole human race may acknowledge Christ as its Savior and through him come to behold you for eternity. Who lives and reigns with you. (Opening prayer, Mass proper)
2. EXCERPT OF POPE JOHN PAUL II’S MOTU PROPIO DECLARING ST. TERESA BENEDICTA OF THE CROSS AS CO-PATRONESS OF EUROPE (October 1, 1999)
“8. With Edith Stein—Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—we enter a very different historical and cultural context. For she brings us to the heart of this tormented century, pointing to the hopes which it has stirred, but also the contradictions and failures which have disfigured it. Unlike Bridget and Catherine, Edith was not from a Christian family. What we see in her is the anguish of the search and the struggle of an existential “pilgrimage”. Even after she found the truth in the peace of the contemplative life, she was to live to the full the mystery of the Cross.
Edith was born in 1891 to a Jewish family of Breslau, which was then in German territory. Her interest in philosophy, and her abandonment of the religious practice which she had been taught by her mother, might have presaged not a journey of holiness but a life lived by the principles of pure “rationalism”. Yet it was precisely along the byways of philosophical investigation that grace awaited her: having chosen to undertake the study of phenomenology, she became sensitive to an objective reality which, far from ultimately dissolving in the subject, both precedes the subject and becomes the measure of subjective knowledge, and thus needs to be examined with rigorous objectivity. This reality must be heeded and grasped above all in the human being, by virtue of that capacity for “empathy”—a word dear to her—which enables one in some way to appropriate the lived experience of the other (cf. Edith Stein, The Problem of Empathy).
It was with this listening attitude that she came face to face, on the one hand, with the testimony of Christian spiritual experience given by Teresa of Avila and the other great mystics of whom she became a disciple and an imitator, and, on the other hand, with the ancient tradition of Christian thought as consolidated in Thomistic philosophy. This path brought her first to Baptism and then to the choice of a contemplative life in the Carmelite Order. All this came about in the context of a rather turbulent personal journey, marked not only by inner searching but also by commitment to study and teaching, in which she engaged with admirable dedication. Particularly significant for her time was her struggle to promote the social status of women; and especially profound are the pages in which she explores the values of womanhood and woman’s mission from the human and religious standpoint (cf. E. Stein, Woman. Her Role According to Nature and Grace).
Edith’s encounter with Christianity did not lead her to reject her Jewish roots; rather it enabled her fully to rediscover them. But this did not mean that she was spared misunderstanding on the part of her family. It was especially her mother’s disapproval which caused her profound pain. Her entire journey towards Christian perfection was marked not only by human solidarity with her native people but also by a true spiritual sharing in the vocation of the children of Abraham, marked by the mystery of God’s call and his “irrevocable gifts” (cf. Rom 11:29).
In particular, Edith made her own the suffering of the Jewish people, even as this reached its apex in the barbarous Nazi persecution which remains, together with other terrible instances of totalitarianism, one of the darkest and most shameful stains on the Europe of our century. At the time, she felt that in the systematic extermination of the Jews the Cross of Christ was being laid on her people, and she herself took personal part in it by her deportation and execution in the infamous camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her voice merged with the cry of all the victims of that appalling tragedy, but at the same time was joined to the cry of Christ on the Cross which gives to human suffering a mysterious and enduring fruitfulness. The image of her holiness remains for ever linked to the tragedy of her violent death, alongside all those who with her suffered the same fate. And it remains as a proclamation of the Gospel of the Cross, with which she identified herself by the very choice of her name in religion.
Today we look upon Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and, in her witness as an innocent victim, we recognize an imitation of the Sacrificial Lamb and a protest against every violation of the fundamental rights of the person. We also recognize in it the pledge of a renewed encounter between Jews and Christians which, following the desire expressed by the Second Vatican Council, is now entering upon a time of promise marked by openness on both sides. Today’s proclamation of Edith Stein as a Co-Patroness of Europe is intended to raise on this Continent a banner of respect, tolerance and acceptance which invites all men and women to understand and appreciate each other, transcending their ethnic, cultural and religious differences in order to form a truly fraternal society.”
MOTU PROPRIO PROCLAIMING SAINT BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA AND SAINT TERESA BENEDICTA OF THE CROSS CO-PATRONESSES OF EUROPE in http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/motu_proprio/documents/hf_jp-ii_motu-proprio_01101999_co-patronesses-europe.html
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