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Summary: The life of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is inspirational but off-putting to some.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

August 9, 2018

We are the people of the New Covenant, the covenant made in the blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Israel was brought out of Egypt by the power of God. He then gave them the Old Covenant made in the blood of lambs and oxen, written on stone in the Ten Commandments, and they immediately began to violate its terms. God’s Law was written to protect the integrity of the human family, because lying, cheating, stealing and committing adultery destroys families. But over and over for the next millennium or so, Israel turned their back on it. Ultimately they were exiled, and when they returned from exile, they went right back at each other until the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. He was the true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and His Holy Spirit enables us to follow the twin commandment of the New Covenant so that we might truly be like Christ in our dealings with one another.

And along with that, in order to make that covenant visible to all humans, Christ left us the ekklesia, the assembly, His Church. To lead that assembly He appointed the apostles as overseers, episcopai, bishops, with St. Peter as the Kephas, the Rock, the leader of the apostolic college, or assembly. And to that Church He gave all Truth. His Word is given to us in the Tradition and Scripture that is our heritage. The Church teaches, leads and sanctifies through the sacraments. That’s the way Jesus wanted the New Covenant to be available until He comes again.

Of course, anything involving human beings is going to be fraught with selfishness and immaturity and sin, so Christ left us a continuing responsibility to repent of those sins, confess them and seek the forgiveness available through the sacraments. That is the primary mission of the Church, to reconcile sinners to the Father and to each other. So today we commemorate the spiritual journey of a child of Israel, Edith Stein, who in her religious consecration became the Carmelite St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and who was martyred on this day in 1942. She is so important to twentieth-century European history that she is one of the six co-patron saints of Europe, along with Benedict of Nursia, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Bridget of Sweden, and Catherine of Siena.

Most of the facets of her life could be called off-putting. She was born to an observant Jewish family, on the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, so anti-Semites would hate that. In her teens, she became an atheist, which would alienate her from both Jews and Christians. Her father died when she was young, but her mother made certain this brilliant girl would have a good education.

“In April 1913 Stein arrived in Göttingen in order to study for the summer semester with the [phenomenologist] Edmund Husserl. By the end of the summer Edith had decided to pursue her degree as a philosopher under Husserl and "Empathy" had been chosen as her thesis topic. Her studies were interrupted in July 1914 because of the outbreak of World War I. She then served as a volunteer wartime Red Cross nurse in an infectious diseases hospital . . .In 1916, Stein moved to Freiburg in order to complete her dissertation on Empathy. Shortly before receiving her degree she agreed to become Husserl's assistant”, and may have had a significant influence on the development of his philosophy. “it was her reading of the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Ávila during summer holidays in Bad Bergzabern in 1921 that prompted her conversion. Baptized on 1 January 1922, and dissuaded by her spiritual advisers from immediately seeking entry to the religious life, she obtained a position to teach at the Dominican nuns' school in Speyer from 1923 to 1931. While there, she translated Thomas Aquinas' De Veritate (Of Truth) into German, familiarized herself with Roman Catholic philosophy in general, and tried to bridge the phenomenology of her former teacher, Husserl, to Thomism.”

She entered the Carmelites in Cologne, taking the name “Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross” and continued writing. The Carmelites moved her to the Netherlands because of the Nazi threat. After the invasion of Holland, “The Dutch Bishops' Conference had a public statement read in all the churches of the nation on 20 July 1942 condemning Nazi racism.” That prompted the Nazis to arrest every Christian who had Jewish ancestry. Teresa and her convert-sister Rosa were arrested on August 2, transported to Auschwitz and executed, probably on August 9. She had requested of her superiors even before the invasion to “allow [her] to offer [her]self to the heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement for true peace.” She was canonized by St. John Paul in 1998. St. Teresa Benedicta, pray for us, and for all the persecuted.

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