Over the last few years, especially this year there has been a good deal of dialogue as well as controversy between the Vatican and Jewish interests beginning with the Holy See's publication of the document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" in which the Church condemned the Holocaust again and asked forgiveness for individual actions, but not to blame the Church as a whole. The Holy Father has reiterated this numerous times from the document he authored in 1965 at the Second Vatican Council to his encyclicals and his talks on the subject. Yet the Jews still remain unconvinced, or shall we reword that to mean they don't want to be convinced because then they could not blame someone and if that were the case they, too, would have to share in the guilt of not doing enough as they accuse the Catholic Church. We all know how closely Judaism and Catholicism are linked in theology, philosophy and pscyhology - one strictly living the Old Covenant while the latter lives the New Covenant based on the principles of the Old. One thing both faiths share culture-wise is that sense of conscience which many translate in modern terms to the "guilt complex." There have been many jokes about this, but it is no joke that the guilt of the Holocaust does not lie with the Jews, nor does it lie with the Catholic Church, but must be shared by all faiths for it was not something that just happened on the scene but took years to evolve. Like a cancer it began innocently and, like the devil himself was filled with half-truths that bamboozled not just the German people but the world as well. Only when the cancer had become malignant and eaten away at the corpse of humanity did the world truly wake up to the damage done and the atrocities that were being perpetrated on both Jew and Catholic. By then it was too late. There are those that claim Pope Pius XI and his successor Pope Pius XII should have spoken out stronger. The facts are that both did speak out against Nazi aggression and persecutions of any race, but those critics fail to understand the political climate that pervaded that era when any kind of firm statement was taken by radical Third Reich members as a threat that warranted, in their mindset, retaliation. This the Church knew and realized and did everything she could do on all fronts to 1) protect her own people, specifically the hierarchy and clergy because without them who would minister to the faithful, 2) not create any more trouble that would result in millions of more deaths, and 3) seek to aid those who were persecuted whether they were Catholic, Jew, Moslem, or Protestant. In regards to the latter, can you imagine what kind of retaliation Adolf Hitler and his henchmen would have taken had they truly known the extent the Church was really active in hiding, aiding and protecting so many Jews? History documents the many Catholic heroes throughout Europe who risked life and limb to come to the aid of their fellow men. The most notable, of course, is Father Maximilian Mary Kolbe, now a deserved saint, who lived the Gospel to the fullest, even to giving his own life for another which he did by substituting himself for a young Jewish husband and father at that very same house of horrors in Auschwitz. There were countless others who no one but God really knows about who did the same, who opened their homes and took the greatest risks to help. A good example of retaliation was the strong anti-Nazi stance against deportation of Jews proclaimed by the Dutch bishops which resulted in the capture of Edith Stein. There were others such as Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli and Cardinal Alojzie Stepinac who, because of their visible positions had to walk a sensitive line for the sake of the good sheep. The latter prince of the Church went on to become the 260th successor of Peter, being elected Supreme Pontiff on March 2, 1939 - his birthday. He would guide Holy Mother Church through the most turbulent time in world history. What so many fail to forget, especially Jewish liberals, is that Pius was shepherd to all his flock worldwide. This included Japan, Italy and Germany. Despite the butcher mentality of Hitler, the Gestapo and the young goosesteppers, there were countless Catholics in Germany who did not agree with the fuhrer's policies or actions but had they spoken out, they most likely would not have lived to see the next day. They, along with most of the people in Europe, lived in constant fear day in and day out. The fact of the matter is that Pius was personally responsible for saving over 850,000 Jews from death. Nevertheless, he as well as other Jewish sympathizers had to be cautious, but, when the opportunity presented itself, most responded in kind to helping the oppressed and downtrodden. Because of the political climate that was so tenous with Hitler and Benito Mussolini of the Italian Fascist regime, for Pius to have spoken out any stronger would have been certain death for millions and millions more Catholics and Jews. The same for another who was beatified this past weekend in Zagreb, when the Pope honored Cardinal Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb who also has come under criticism by Jewish and Serbian radicals because he supposedly furthered the Croatian cause at the expense of others, even being accused of siding with the Nazi factions in Croatia. Again, satan's half truths surface to blind the heart and confuse the mind. Think about it. Had any of that been true, do you think the Church would have even considered the cause for canonization of Cardinal Stepinac? No way! No organization is more meticulous in its investigations than the Vatican and no organization works slower than the Holy See in determining the authenticity of a person's sanctity. That is the way it should be to be certain no mistake could be made. Therefore, after extensive research and thousands of hours of interviews, grilling, counter probing and scrutinizing everything under the microscope, the Pontifical Congregation for the Causes of Saints assured all that Cardinal Stepinac is worthy, the same as insuring that Edith Stein, who was beatified at Cologne by Pope John Paul II on May 1, 1987, be proclaimed a saint of the Church with no doubts or apprehensions as to her worthiness. Yet radical Jewish interests protest and contest that Edith is one of theirs, claiming she was killed solely because she was a Jew, not a Catholic. It's almost like they are jealous and don't want anyone else to suffer or be honored except those of Jewish extraction. This is the same attitude they have expressed over the cross controversy outside Auschwitz where over a million Catholics were also executed. When the Holy Father knelt and prayed there, Jews were outraged like it was his fault the Holocaust happened. Then when white crosses were planted there a few months ago in honor of their Catholic brethren, Jews protested vehemently to where the Polish government and the Church was brought into the middle of the crisis. Why do these Jewish factions think they have a monopoly on suffering, on commemorating the fallen? That is a sad commentary on what the Judao-Christian relationship should be. The Holy Father has gone out of his way to appease the Jews, to apologize for any transgressions against them not just during the Holocaust but through all of history. And yet, this weekend they'll be in Rome protesting once again because Edith Stein, a Jew through birth, chose to follow another Jew by birth and embrace the New Covenant which that same Jew established some one thousand, nine hundred and sixty-seven years ago and Who also was persecuted by radical Jewish factions - all the way to the death on the Cross. But no matter how much the Jews of Jesus' time protested, He conquered them all with love - the same kind of love exhibited by Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
That kind of love was something she nourished as the youngest of eleven kids in a very orthodox Jewish family in Breslau, Germany. She was born appropriately on the Jewish feast of the Atonement - Yom Kippur - October 12, 1891. Growing into maturity during the first World War in Germany, Edith was an avid scholar and somewhat of a feminist, espousing the cause in an atmosphere of women's repression with her doctorate in philosophy. She was no dummy, graduating with a summa cum laude. Like so many young people then and today, she went through a void of faith, forsaking her own Jewish practices for the world. Shortly after the First World War, she discovered the New Testament. This lead to her being baptized a Catholic on January 1, 1922. With her background she contributed an excellent work based on her new-found faith, "The Spirituality of Christian Women." On October 14, 1933 as the Nazi juggernaut was beginning to pick up speed, brainwashing the youth of the nation with the great Arian fallacy, Edith entered a Carmelite monastery in Cologne. It was a year later as a Novice that she took the name "Teresa Benedicta of the Cross." When the ugly Nazi facade was exposed, violence broke out. Jews and Catholic religious everywhere were rounded up like cattle. As a safety precaution, the majority of the cloistered sisters at Teresa's monastery, including Teresa, were swiftly and safely moved under the cover of darkness to a convent in Echt, Holland much as Joseph and Mary and their infant Son fled to Egypt. She would seem to have been safe in Dutch territory, but the Catholic bishops in the Netherlands issued a stern warning against Nazi aggression with a strong pastoral letter and the Nazi strongarms started raiding all Dutch convents in retaliation. Therefore, when Edith Stein was rounded up with the rest of her fellow Carmelite nuns in early August, 1942 she wasn't captured because she was a Jew but because she represented the Catholic clergy who had dared criticize these "superior Arian" aggressors. No doubt, when they discovered she was both a consecrated religious and a Jew, her fate was sealed. But Edith did not deny her Jewish heritage. Rather she upheld the nobility of her race and sympathized with her Jewish brethren. With her when she was captured was Edith's older sister Rosa who had sought asylum in the convent. Also, their older brother Paul had already been killed by Hitler's men. As it was, four members of the Stein family would be executed at Auschwitz. The nuns were herded onto a train and taken by rail through Germany to the far western border of Poland where they were shoved off and goaded into the gas chambers at Auschwitz. During beatification ceremonies eleven years ago the Holy Father exclaimed that, "In the extermination camp, she died as a daughter of Israel." But he was also quick to point out that she died a Catholic, "She had the strength, coming from the willingness to self-sacrifice inherent in the imitation of Christ." In truth, Edith Stein was not a martyr for the Jewish cause, nor for the Catholic cause alone, but rather the Church's newest saint will be remembered as a martyr for all humanity!
Edith Stein's life has been examined minutely by the Holy See. The prescribed miracles have been worked through her intercession to the satisfaction of a rigorous panel within the Curia. We see the tale end of her life, as a Carmelite Nun, who was sent to the gas chamber along with many other Jewish women, for she was born a Jew. We see the maturity of her faith culminated in the acceptance of her death, in the fulfillment of her commitment to Jesus Christ by dying, not so much for being a Jew (even if the Nazis thought that), but for having converted to Catholicism, by radically changing her life, and touching the lives of so many around her. And that conversion did not begin in the death camp; it began long before when Edith, intellectual and educated, had to choose between the paradox of religious belief versus the materialistic society of her time - the time of post World War I and the hatefulness of World War II. We see the life of Edith Stein in its completion, now glorified for the honor and glory of God by canonization. Edith Stein's life was one of suffering, and she learned how to make a beautiful symphony from that suffering. Now, we here on earth see the perfection of that melody, and wonder how we're ever going to achieve such a thing in our own poor lives.
Pondering on this, last Sunday I watched, along with my husband, a program aired on ABC's "20/20" about Audrey Santo, the girl/child lying in a coma-like state in Massachusetts, to whom miraculous events have been attributed.
Before I go any further, I want to say that the Church has made no official ruling on this matter, but has placed it under formal investigation, which is still moving forward, so the final decision rests with the Church. However, from what I saw, from what my soul heard and saw, I personally am convinced that the story shown on this program focused not on one, but on two saints of our own time.
The first, of course, is Audrey, who at the tender age of three fell into the swimming pool and drowned. She has been in a coma ever since, and the medical professionals long-ago told Audrey's mother to pull the plug. The child may or may not be conscious of what goes on around her. That's not the point. That she is an innocent child, having committed no actual sin in her life, having still the purity of her baptism upon her soul, God has chosen to work through her to heal so many others who come in faith to seek their God.
But the other saint, the one that most overlook, is Audrey's mother. If you happened to see the show, then perhaps you caught that, too. If not, it would be difficult to put into words here what was said (or perhaps not said) about Linda Santo, the untiring mother of such great faith who has worked all of these years to tend her daughter, with prayer always on her lips.
As I watched the program I saw two very similar saints, and both had patience of a heroic nature - Linda who cares round the clock for her daughter, and the daughter who lies in a coma-like state, unable to move, to eat, or anything else…yet she is not dead. She is being held in God's hands, and He uses her, and no one, no doctor on earth, knows how much that little child suffers for the sake of His Sorrowful Passion.
On the other hand, Linda Santo is a living example of the Beatitudes, the Great Commandment, of the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ. She embodies heroic virtues that go beyond mere words to describe, and she does so with kindness, gentleness, and with faith so strong that no one has been able to knock it down in all the years of suffering she has endured. The symphony of suffering in the Santo household is unique in many ways for God has chosen to pinpoint this household as an example of the exquisite charity we must all have for one another, the absolute respect for life we must possess, and the undying faith in Him that is paramount in our salvation.
Is it any wonder, then, that the walls themselves weep oil? Is it any wonder that statues and pictures weep oil, that there are tears of oil, of water and of blood that seep, unexplained by any scientific method, from the same statues, crosses, and icons?
Does it matter that the doubters and detractors are still looking for a way to prove the entire scenario is fraudulent? God will win out in the end, but in the meantime, the symphony that the Santo household offers up to God each day is an example for all of us.
As mothers, we should see in the example of Linda Santo a model of the same motherhood that the Blessed Virgin Mary was to Jesus and is to us this day. For fathers, we must look at the repentant father who returned to face the state his daughter is in, and might well remain in for years to come, to the fact that God has chosen to use little Audrey to bring His healing graces to many others. The normal life that any family seeks does not exist for the Santo family. Does normalcy exist in any family today? Are we not all, in some manner, diseased by the misuse of technology, the presence of illness of varying degrees, and the corruptness of the society in which we live?
Look at the life of the Santo family. There lies Audrey, day after day, coma-like, yet a true instrument that has brought her sanctity, and has brought sanctity to her own family. It is not a question for us to determine whose suffering is the greater-Audrey's or that of her family. That is up to God. What we should look at, if we wish our own daily symphony of suffering to have dignity and beauty before the Throne of God is the manner in which each accepts the cross, the manner in which each responds to the grace God gives to keep moving forward in faith, hope, trust and love.
These essential ingredients are the core of the life of our soul. If we neglect them, if we discard them preferring the materialistic society in which we live, then we are in our own coma, but unlike little Audrey, our coma is a deadly one, for it brings on the death of the soul.
Let us, in the coming week, take our eyes off ourselves, and place them upon God, where they belong. Then, through prayer, let us examine our own lives, and see those crosses, which have been given to us by God. In so doing, we will be better able to hear what melody we are giving back to God-a beautiful song of praise and thanks, or one of bitterness and complaint. If you find that your song is the former, then give more praise and thanks and ask for the grace to go forward. If it is, by chance, the latter, then it is not too late to get in tune and form your life into a symphony of such celestial music that the angels harmonize with you.
Edith Stein wove a beautiful melody, which will never end for her. Little Audrey is doing the same, and the melody woven each day by her mother is of such Heavenly notes that we, in our humanity, are embarrassed, even shocked by its beauty. We shouldn't be. Instead, we should look upon it as a true sign of what God expects of each of us in our every day life, and then we should strive to do it. God is the one who brings all things to Perfection, as he did with Edith Stein, as he is doing for Audrey, for Linda Santo, and the entire Santo family. Let us join then with the Heavenly choir and sing in joy because we do suffer, and not because we flee from it.
On occasion I receive a nasty e-mail from a Protestant brother or sister who is very blaming with regard to Catholics and their “worship” of Mary. Unfortunately, many of our Protestant accusers are very misinformed with regard to our relationship with Our Blessed Mother. It is not all their fault because they have been deceived by someone else and in good will have believed their instructors. The truth is that Catholics do NOT worship Mary, but we DO honor her for the simple reason that Jesus did.
Jesus, we know, kept the Ten Commandments perfectly and the Fourth Commandment is: “Honor your father and your mother.” If Jesus did NOT keep the Fourth Commandment, He would have offended His Father Who had given all Ten Commandments to be obeyed. If Jesus then DID keep the Fourth Commandment, and we are to imitate Jesus, then who are we NOT to honor Mary. I said “honor” not “adore” or “worship,” which Catholic teaching clearly proposes belongs to God alone.
Catholics believe that Mary is a creature of God, therefore NOT EQUAL to God. However, she was and is a very specially chosen one of God, because she was chosen for the great honor of bringing Jesus into the world. No other human woman can claim this.
The Bible says that when the angel appeared to Mary, she was instructed that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her. How can anyone treat with contempt this chosen woman who had such an experience?
Many of our good Protestant brothers and sisters seem to overlook the Gospel passage where Mary, when visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, proclaimed: “All generations will call me blessed, for He Who is mighty has done great things for me.”
Anyone who does NOT call Mary “blessed,” is not keeping the Word of God and living out that above passage.
Catholics DO live out that passage for we DO HONOR Our Lady, love and respect her and treat her with special regard. But we do NOT place her EQUAL to God nor do we adore her. That would be idolatry.
Dear Protestant brethren! Please be lovingly reminded that the Eighth Commandment is: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” When you accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary, you are offending against that Commandment because you ARE falsely accusing. Furthermore I’d like to ask: Did anyone ever ask you to say a prayer for them? If they did, and you consented to pray for them, you were acting as an intercessor.
The CATHOLIC CATECHISM (paragraph 969) states: “This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to Heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation ... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”
Happy month of October - Our Lady's month - and God bless you!