Edith Stein was born in 1891 into a large Jewish family of seven children. Her father died when she was two years old, leaving her mother Auguste Stein to not only take care of the family alone, but also try to keep a struggling lumberyard afloat. Through grit and determination she was able to turn the business around, gaining the reputation throughout Breslau as the most efficient business person in the city. Yet, because of this distraction, she wasn't able to spend as much time with her children. Though Edith was the youngest, she was the strongest of the children in the face of adversity and grew close to her mother, understanding the burdens placed on her mother. Edith's autobiography "Life in a Jewish Family" reveals a young girl who had great aspirations; but worldly plans, not God's plans at the time. Her mother mirrored in her the same determination that would sustain Edith throughout her life. It would be left to God to mold and fine-tune those qualities.
Her precociousness at an early age both sustained her and made her extremely difficult to deal with. At only six, she demanded to be admitted to the prestigious Victoria School in Breslau and was quite upset that she had to begin with kindergarten. She was an extremely intelligent young girl and her frustration with not being challenged enough translated into her dropping out of school at the age of 13. It was at this same time that this brash young lady embraced the world and turned her back on the Jewish family practice of praying. At the age of 20 she enrolled in the University of Breslau but again, felt unfulfilled. She was lured by the writings of a noted philosophy professor at that time, especially his work on "Logical Investigations" and decided to follow him. He was Edmund Husserl, a professor in Gottingen. But things aren't always as they seem and there were times that she became disillusioned, even expressing thoughts of suicide. She was that despondent at not accomplishing her goals fast enough, frustrated with the societal obstacles placed in her path. With the outbreak of World War I, her studies were interrupted and her heart dictated that she become a volunteer nurse to do her part. A year later, while juggling her nursing duties with her studies, she obtained her Doctorate in Philosophy, writing her dissertation on "The Problem of Empathy" which was ironic in so far as she was expressing so much empathy as a nurse. It was part of the confusion that consumed much of her student life. Upon graduation she became the assistant of Husserl, transcribing his writings.
An interesting experience occurred in 1917 when she attempted to console a widow whose husband, one of her favorite professors in college, had been killed in the war. Expecting to find a woman totally bitter and lost, Edith found this woman Anna Reinach with great faith and she began to reconsider the importance of religion in her own life. The struggles of the next few years would soften her for her conversion. In 1919, with the war over and Germany reeling, she was unable to land a teaching post at a university since no one would accept a woman professor. Some men capitalized on her expertise and plagiarized her work, taking credit for material she had written. This hurt her and had it not been for another work she would read, bitterness might have ensued. But this book she read completely changed the course of her life for the better.
One evening in 1921 she picked up the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. That whole evening she couldn't put it down, finishing the entire book that night. She was truly moved, exclaiming "This is the truth!" when reading the last of it. It prompted her to look into Catholicism, purchasing a missal and catechism the next day. All her years of studying in search of truth through philosophy and some of the far-fetched concepts being bandied about had left a void, but this one book on this first female Doctor of the Church had moved her like nothing before. What touched her greatly was that Teresa was also of Jewish ancestry. Edith realized, as she wrote later, that "those who seek truth seek God, whether they realize it or not."
The year 1922 began a new life for Edith for she was baptized a Roman Catholic on the Feast of the Circumcision, then January 1st. Her conversion alienated all of her Jewish friends from family members and close friends and associates to her own mother who was deeply hurt by her turning away from Judaism. In 1923 she was able to land a teaching position at a Dominican teacher's college in Speyer, Germany until 1931 when she was hired on at the German Institute for Scientific Pedagogy in Munster, Germany. During this time she gained great prominence as a lecturer at philosophical seminars in Austria, France and Switzerland also representing the Catholic Women's Movement in Germany. She also translated from Latin into German Saint Thomas Aquinas' "Disputed Questions on Truth" in educating others as to the true meaning of philosophy in line with Catholic thinking.
In the early thirties she could already see the writing on the wall, so to speak, of the evils of the National Socialistic party in Germany and the rise of a young upstart countryman named Adolph Hitler. More and more doors were being closed to her, not only because she was a woman, but also of Jewish descent. But she could also see it wasn't just her, but many, many of her Jewish friends who, in adversity, realized her friendship was genuine and rekindled a bond with Edith despite her conversion to Catholicism. She took up the cause for her Jewish brethren by planning a special trip to Rome to personally ask Pope Pius XI to issue an encyclical condemning Nazi anti-Semitism. Because of circumstances beyond her control she was never able to make it to the Vatican, instead sending a letter that only God knows if it ever reached the Holy Father's desk because the letter was never answered. In light of all the criticisms of Pope Pius XII by Jewish interests for not doing the same, we have suspicions that the letter could have been destroyed by those intercepting the Pontiff's correspondence for there were some Nazi sympathizers within the Vatican at the time, continuing to be entrenched during Pius XII's pontificate. Edith, always the perfectionist, felt she had failed when she didn't hear a response.
In October of 1933, realizing the Nazis were stifling any opportunity for her ever to teach in a university again, she focused her attention on looking into life as a nun. She had been exposed to the religious life from her years at Dominica and then in Munster and felt both an affinity and envy for this simple, aesthetic and rewarding life. She joined the Carmel Order in Cologne. Because of her deep affection and respect for St. Teresa of Avila, she chose the religious name of Teresa Blessed of the Cross or Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce. She embraced the writings of Saint John of the Cross whose "Dark Night of the Soul" she could relate to in many ways and slowly, but surely withdrew into the "science of the cross" which she called Kreuzewissenschaft, a work she would write in 1938. It was this that would sustain her and bring the mystery of the joy of suffering during her trying times ahead as the swastika enveloped the land in a suffocating grip.
One of Edith's lasting sorrows was the fact she never reconciled with her mother who died in the mid thirties, heartbroken that her daughter had defected from the Jewish faith. But Edith found solace in similarities in the Hebrew Scriptures on Queen Esther, the New Testament, and Catholic Doctrine. In April 1938 she took her final vows becoming a full fledged Carmelite nun. She was assigned to the Carmelite monastery in Echt in the Netherlands. But as the year waned on, it was inevitable that the Carmelites would suffer reprisal if the Nazis discovered Jewish Catholic being sheltered by the nuns, which included Sister Teresa. Therefore, she had to flee the monastery on New Year's Eve in 1938 to avoid both her own capture and put her fellow sisters in jeopardy. When the search was over, she was clandestinely welcomed back, along with her sister Rosa who also converted. More and more she grew to hate the abuses of Nazism. It wasn't long before Hitler invaded Holland. In retaliation of an open letter circulated by the Episcopal Conference of Dutch Bishops and read aloud at every Mass in Holland, condemning Nazi actions, Hitler ordered a clamp down. This time the Gestapo made a surprise forced entry at Echt. Anticipating this Sister Teresa and Rosa, who had become Portress at Echt, had applied for admittance to a Carmelite monastery in Paquier, Switzerland but the transfer papers got caught up in redtape and the transfer did not come through in time. Sadly, Sister Teresa and Rosa were arrested along with 700 other Catholic Jews, non-Aryan Catholics and Jews without certification throughout Holland and deported to the concentration camp in Theresianstadt, Germany in July, 1942. As the Nazi soldiers approached her to arrest her at Echt, she turned to her sister, trying to calm her and knowing full well what lay ahead: "Come, Rosa, we are going for our people!" Her statement came from her convictions she had penned earlier, "I had already heard about harsh measures against the Jews. However a particularly bright light lit up my mind: only in that moment had I the intuition that God was laying His hand on His people, and that the fate of this people was also mine." Their mother would have been proud.
The following month they were transported by rail from Theresianstadt to their final destination of Auschwitz on the Polish border. Enroute they stopped briefly in her hometown of Breslau where she looked out and remarked, "This is my beloved hometown, I will never see it again. We are riding to our death." The smell of death permeated that train trip for the people were packed in like sardines, the stench was overwhelming and all, though not knowing for sure what was going to happen, had a suspicion of their ultimate demise. Intuitively Sister Teresa knew and set about whatever time she had left comforting the afflicted, foregoing her own pain and sorrow by reaching out to help others. On August 9, 1942 she was stripped of her habit, and along with thousands of other nude women, forced inhumanely to trudge to the "showers" where they were gassed to death by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
Her death and subsequent cause for canonization became a source of controversy with Jews who felt the Church was trying to hold her up for justifying that all Jews should become Catholic and thus endorsing the anti-Semitic mentality that exists today more in the minds of radical Jewish groups who refuse to share the horrors of the Holocaust with anyone not of Jewish roots. The truth is that the Jews did not have a monopoly on suffering, nor did the Catholics. The truth is that regardless of her born faith and converted faith, Saint Edith Stein never took that into consideration when dealing with her fellow victims of the Holocaust. She realized, as she wrote and asked many times, "Do you want to be totally united to the Crucified? If you are serious about this, you will be present, by the power of His Cross, at every front, at every place of sorrow, bringing to those who suffer comfort, healing and salvation." That Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross did throughout her ordeal right up to her own martyrdom. In "Edith Stein: A Fragmented Life", author Steven Payne wrote in America magazine, "By worldly standards, then, hers was not a triumphant life or death. None of the glorious dreams of her chidlhood had been fulfilled. To those without faith, Edith Stein's story surely looks like a series of false starts and frustrated hopes. Even today she has not yet received the recognition she deserves for her contributions to feminism, phenomenology, educational theory, Catholic thought and inter-religious dialogue. She did not live to see the fruits of her self-sacrifice. But out of all the apparent failures and disappointments, out of all the disjointed fragments of her life, God wove a great tapestry and accomplished a great work."
In 1962 the process for beatification was officially opened in Cologne and on September 19, 1972 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put their nihil obstat on her cause. Fourteen years later on March 8, 1986 the relator for the cause signed the presentation and was submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for final scrutiny, passing with flying colors and presented to Pope John Paul II on January 26, 1987 who declared recognition of St. Edith Stein as a Servant of God for her martyrdom and heroic virtue. After the Holy Father beatified her while on a Papal Visit to Cologne on May 1, 1987 a miracle was needed to cement her canonization. It came from a 3 year-old infant American from Boston who bore Blessed Edith's name Benedicta McCarthy. Little Benedicta was diagnosed with a severe liver failure and her life was hanging by a thread if she didn't receive a liver transplant in time. Because of the shortage of the exact liver donors, time was of the essence. But a group of American and Canadian believers prayed to Blessed Teresa Benedicta for healing and little Benedicta recovered totally without needing a new liver. It was verified by Rome after further, extensive investigation, thus clearing the way for her canonization on October 11, 1998 proclaiming her feast day as August 9th in the liturgical year marking the day she was martyred.
At her canonization the Holy Father called her "an eminent daughter of Israel and a faithful daughter of the Church." He went on to remind all that "From now on, as we celebrate the memory of this new saint, we cannot fail to remember from year to year the 'Shoah,' that savage plan of exterminating a people, which cost the lives of millions of Jewish brothers and sisters. While calling for this kind of atrocity as the holocaust never to happen again, he held up Saint Teresa Benedicta as "a beacon which casts its light amid the terrible darkness which has marred this century...To her prayers before God I entrust all who suffer for the sake of justice and human dignity." Saint Edith Stein was a shining example of this!
Among the present-day challenges which the Great Jubilee Year of 2000 compels us to reflect upon, is the respect of the rights of women, as I pointed out in the Apostolic Letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente" (cf TMA, 51). Today I would like to recall some aspects of the feminine question, which I have already touched upon on other occasions.
Sacred Scripture sheds great light on the topic of the promotion of woman, indicating the project of God for man and woman in the two creation narratives.
The first narrative states: "So God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27). This affirmation lies at the base of Christian anthropology, as it underlines the fundamental dignity of man as person in his created being, "in the image" of God. At the same time, the text clearly states that neither man nor woman, taken separately, is the image of the Creator, but man and woman are His image in their reciprocity. Both represent God's masterpiece to the same degree.
In the second creation narrative, through the symbolism of the woman's creation from the man's rib, Scripture shows that humanity is not complete until woman is created (cf Genesis 2:18-24). She receives a name that, according to the verbal assonance of the Hebrew language, is relative to the man (iš/iššah). "Created together, man and woman are willed by God one for the other" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 371). Woman's presentation as a "help similar to him" (Gen 2:18) does not mean that woman is man's servant -- "help" does not equal "servant"; the Psalmist says to God: "You are my help" (Ps 70:6; cf 115:9-11; 118:7; 146:5). Rather, the expression means that woman is worthy of collaborating with man because she is his perfect correspondence. Woman is another type of "I" in a common humanity, constituted in perfect equality of dignity by man and woman.
2. There is reason to rejoice over the fact that the deepening of the "feminine" in contemporary culture has contributed to a rethinking of the topic of the human person as reciprocal "being for the other" in interpersonal communion. Today the understanding of the oblative dimension of the person is becoming an acquired principle. Unfortunately, it is often unnoticed on the practical level. Among the many aggressions against human dignity, there is a widespread violation of the dignity of woman that manifests itself with the exploitation of her person and body. Every practice which offends woman in her liberty and femininity must be vigorously opposed: so-called "sexual tourism", the buying and selling of young girls, mass sterilization, and in general every form of violence against the other sex.
The moral law requires a very different attitude, preaching the dignity of woman as a person created in the image of a God-Communion! Today more than ever it is necessary to repropose the biblical anthropology of relationality, which helps us to authentically grasp the identity of the human person in his relationship with other people, and particularly between man and woman. In the human person thought of in terms of "relationality" we find a vestige of the very mystery of God, revealed in Christ as substantial unity in the communion of three divine persons. In light of this mystery we can understand well the affirmation of "Gaudium et Spes" that the human person, "is the only creature on earth which God willed for its own sake, unable to fully realize itself except through a sincere gift of self" (GS, 24). The diversity between man and woman recalls the necessity of interpersonal communion and the meditation on the dignity and vocation of woman strengthens the communional conception of the human being (cf "Mulieris Dignitatem", 7).
3. This communal attitude, which the feminine strongly evokes, allows us to meditate on the paternity of God, avoiding the figurative projection of the patriarchal type much contested, not without motives, by some currents of contemporary literature. What is attempted is to grasp the face of the Father from within the mystery of God as Trinity, which is perfect unity in distinction. The figure of the Father is rethought in his relation with the Son, who is oriented toward him from all eternity (cf John 1:1) in the communion of the Holy Spirit. It also needs to be highlighted that the Son of God was made man in the fullness of time and was born of the Virgin Mary (cf Galatians 4:4), and this also sheds light on the feminine, showing in Mary the model of woman willed by God. In Her and through Her the greatest event in human history occurred. The paternity of God-Father is not only related to God-Son in the eternal mystery, but also to his Incarnation in the womb of a woman. If God-Father, who "generated" the Son from eternity, valued a woman enough -- Mary -- to "generate him" in the world, thus rendering her "Theotokos" -- Mother of God -- then this is not without significance in order to understand the dignity of woman in the divine project.
4. Therefore the Gospel announcement of the paternity of God, far from being limiting regarding the dignity and the role of woman, is on the contrary the guarantee of what "feminine" humanly symbolizes: acceptance, care of man, generation of life. All of which is, in fact, transcendentally rooted in the mystery of the eternal divine "generation". Paternity in God is of course totally spiritual. Nevertheless, it expresses that eternal reciprocity and properly Trinitarian relationality in which every paternity and maternity originates, and in which the richness common to masculine and feminine is founded.
Reflection on the role and mission of woman is well-placed in this year dedicated to the Father, spurring us on to an even more incisive commitment, so that the full place of women in the Church and in society may be acknowledged.
Death of Pope Clement IV, 183rd successor of Peter. This French-born pontiff excommunicated Conradin of Sicily but it could not prevent the occupation of Rome and Naples. He lived and conducted his three-year papacy at Viterbo where he also died. Before becoming a priest and bishop, he had been a man of the world.
Death of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, advisor to Henry VIII who faced the difficult decision to honor his king or his faith. He wisely chose the latter and suffered at the hands of the rebellious monarch.
Death of Saint Francis Fasani, Italian priest and mystic.