Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Edith Stein

For some time now I've been working my through the life of St. Edith Stein or Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Edith was a Jewish born philosopher who studied under the great Husserel, the two had been pioneers in the field of Phenomenology which as is summarized in the Stanford encyclopedia as:

the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.

It's very difficult to understand but it's about trying to categorize a state of perception such as a mystical state or phenomenon... For Edith this search was all about Truth, about being it's very self. And in that search she was introduced to the writings of the St. Teresa of Avila and there she found the 'truth'. In her search for being, Edith found God.

I'm really quite impressed by this woman. She took private vows and lived a very monastic life spending her days lecturing, teaching, and preparing others for reception into the Church itself. She had wanted to enter the Carmelite Monastery however her Spiritual Director who was the Abbott of a Benedictine Monastery advised her against it, he felt she could do more good in the world so she continued her lectures and writings, but lived a monastic life in the world. Eventually when it became apparent that the Jews were going to suffer in Germany she decided to enter the Carmelites and offer herself as a victim for the sufferings of her own people. She took upon herself their cross. She said:

"One can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person."

In the Carmel she found what she had always been looking for; in the Carmel a well respected philosopher in Europe she was no longer, apparently some of the nuns observed that she couldn't sew or clean very well. For any great academic that must be humiliating, but her superiors said that she never complained about it and entered into the simple life that she had so longed for. If anyone knows me and your reading this you'll know the mad trad does not take well to being humbled... Ora Pro Nobis!!!

When Edith realised that her presence in the Cologne Carmel was putting others at risk she secretly crossed the border into Holland where she was warmly received in the Carmel of Echt. There she wrote her last work, The Science of the Cross.

Her own Cross was just ahead of her, for the Nazis had invaded neutral Holland, and when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland. Edith was taken from the Echt Carmel on 2 August 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, the conditions in the box cars being so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on 9 August 1942.

The bravery of her decision to follow God at any cost is quite astonishing, she could have went anywhere... The States, the UK, wherever, yet she choose to stay and offer her life for her people. She chose the road of suffering. She offered herself as a victim.

John Paul II said that we pay with freedom with our whole being, and that's true of Edith Stein, she paid for her convictions, her faith, her people with her very self... She's a great example of how to look at the face of evil with courage and to walk on. Edith once said:

"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 comes, and you look back over the day and 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 with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him -- really rest -- and start the next day as a new life."

For anyone who's struggling, or discerning a vocation or trying to stay when the going is getting a little tough in seminary, or maybe your wondering where on earth the path will take you, then take heart from this:

"Learn from St. Thérèse 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’."

I wish I'd discovered her before I left...

1 comment:

Roses and Jessamine said...

Thanks for this very informative article. I've recently discovered Edith Stein myself. This song relates to her: http://rosesandjessamine.blogspot.com/2008/06/la-ciudad-hermosa-beautiful-city.html