St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: Martyr and Model of Reconciliation
By Jean M. Heimann
August 9 is the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (also known as Edith Stein), virgin and martyr, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, who later became a Discalced Carmelite nun and was martyred at Auschwitz. She is the patron saint of converted Jews, loss of parents, martyrs, and World Youth Day.
Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, of Jewish parents, Siegried Stein and Auguste Courant, in Breslau, Germany, the youngest of eleven children. Although her parents were practicing Jews, Edith became an atheist during her adolescent years.
A critical thinker and a gifted scholar, Edith studied philology and philosophy at the universities of Breslau and Goettingen. Her studies were temporarily discontinued due to the outbreak of World War I. During the War, she felt motivated to offer her assistance to alleviate the suffering and tragedies of the war. In 1915, she became a nursing assistant and worked in a Red Cross hospital for the prevention of infectious diseases.
Following World War I, she resumed her studies at the University of Freiburg and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy Suma Cum Laude at age 25. She later became the assistant and colleague of Professor Husserl, the famous founder of phenomenology, who greatly appreciated her brilliant mind.
Edith was searching for the truth and finally found it in the Catholic Church, initially through her study of the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and the works of St. Thomas Aquinas. She was baptized in the Church on New Years’ Day, 1922.
Following her conversion, Edith became a famous author and philosopher, and spent her days writing, translating, teaching, and lecturing. She was teaching at a Catholic school of education in Speyer when she was forced to quit her job due to an imperative made by the Nazi government which required an “Aryan certificate” for civil servants.
She entered the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne in October 1933 and received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934, at the age of 43, taking the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (“Teresa blessed by the Cross”). In 1938 she and her sister Rosa, also a convert and an extern Sister of the monastery were sent to the Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands for their protection and safety.
On August 2, 1942, Edith was taken from her monastery and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz. The conditions in the box cars were so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz and was cremated at the age of 51 on August 9, 1942. Despite the fact that Edith was annihilated by the satanic evil of genocide, the witness of her life stands strong as a blazing light in the midst of evil, darkness, and suffering. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II at Cologne on May 1, 1987, and canonized in Rome twelve years later.
Favorite St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross Quotes
“One cannot desire freedom from the cross when one is especially chosen for the cross.”
“Whoever seeks the truth seeks God, whether he is conscious of it or not.”
“In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts… It draws us to itself with secret power, it conceals us in itself in the Father’s bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host.”
“Whatever was not planned by me, was planned by God.”
“God Himself teaches us to go forward with our hand in His by means of the Church’s liturgy.”
“The more lofty the degree of loving union to which God destines the soul, so much more profound and persistent must be its purification.”
“There is a state of resting in God, an absolute break from all intellectual activity, when one forms no plans, makes no decisions and for the first time really ceases to act, when one simply hands over the future to God’s will and ‘surrenders himself to fate’.”
“God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night looks back and you see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it to Him – really rest – and start the next day as a new life.”
“Learn from St. Therese to depend on God alone and serve Him with a wholly pure and detached heart. Then, like her you will be able to say ‘I do not regret that I have given myself up to Love’.’’
~ St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Prayers of St. Teresa Benedicta
“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 it with peace.”
“When night comes, and retrospect shows that everything was patchwork and much that one had planned left undone, when so many things rouse shame and regret, then take all as is, lay it in God’s hands, and offer it up to Him. In this way we will be able to rest in Him, actually to rest and to begin the new day like a new life.”