Browsing Pastor's Corner

Saint Edith Stein and the JEWISH Savior

Aug 9, 2019

August 9th Feast Day

“My conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”

Perhaps there is no greater expression for one’s own people than these words from Saint Paul in reference to his Jewish brothers and sisters. To love someone is to want what is best for that person even if it means sacrificing your own happiness. 

And what better can we hope for another especially those we love than that they embrace the source of infinite and all powerful love who is Jesus Christ? And like that moment during the Mass when the Priest elevates the Host and Chalice to the Father as the supreme offering of love and sacrifice, Saint Paul would offer his whole life as a living Mass in the hopes that his own people would at last receive the everlasting gift of Jesus Christ.

Saint Edith Stein was born into a traditional Jewish Family who tried to instill in Edith a strong sense of Jewish Identity. Having been born on one of the holiest Jewish Feast Days, Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement in 1891, her Mother insisted that Edith was destined for Jewish greatness. 

However, the older and more educated Edith became, the less enthusiasm and less belief she had not only for Judaism, but God in general. Admitting that she had simply become too smart for such silly and archaic notions as God and organized religion, she became more or less an Agnostic: one who recognizes the possibility of God’s existence, but could care less about it.

However, it would be the horrors of World War I that would become the catalysts that propelled Edith down the path of truth until she would at last arrive at the Foot of Christ’s Cross upon the Calvary of a war torn Europe.  Along this path she encountered a Christian Married couple who were for Edith, her dearest friends. 

Sadly, in 1917 word reached Edith and her friend Anna, that Anna’s husband had been killed in battle. Determined to bring whatever comfort she could to the grieving widow, what Edith encountered in Anna would radically change the direction of her life. 

Rather than finding a woman overcome with despair and loss, doubting and hating God, Edith found a committed Christian suffering, but at peace. As Edith herself later admitted: “It was my first encounter with the Cross and the Divine power that it bestows on those who carry it.  For the first time, I was seeing with my very eyes the Church, born from the Redeemer’s suffering triumphant over the sting of death.  That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth in the mystery of the Cross.”

Having then read the Autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila in a single sitting, Edith had confronted the face of truth and upon His head was a Crown of Thorns.

She was ready to be baptized a Catholic. Her mother and family were heartbroken, and could not understand how Edith could be so cruel not only to them, but their entire people and history.  This misunderstanding on the part of her family, was a Gethsemane for Edith her whole life. 

But if her family was heartbroken by her conversion to Catholicism, their devastation was complete when Edith decided to become a Cloistered Carmelite Nun, during of all times, the beginning of World War II.

Edith’s family saw her entry into the convent as the cruelest betrayal: coming at the worst possible time: just when Jewish persecution was intensifying. Christianity was the religion of their oppressors.  When Edith’s mom heard of her decision she lamented:

“Why did you have to get to know Him (Jesus Christ)? He was a good man…I am not saying anything against him. But why did he have to go and make himself God?”

It was only after her mother’s death that her sister Rosa would likewise convert and become a Nun alongside Edith as well.

When she made her profession, Edith Stein, now Saint Theresa Benedict of the Cross offered her life to Christ for the Jewish People.

As Jesus powerfully reminded us during the night of the Last Supper: “No greater love hath no one, than to lay down one’s life for those one loves.” This promise of love was accepted by Christ in full.

Saint Theresa Benedict and her sister Rosa, now a Carmelite Nun with her, were arrested by the Gestapo and transferred to the killing camp of Auschwitz.  Her last recorded words are those spoken to her sister before the doors of the death train had closed: “Come, let us go for our people.”  Her Jewish people…as Christ went to Calvary for those He loved, Edith Stein and her sister went to the Calvary of Auschwitz to offer their lives…their bodies, their blood, their hearts and souls for those they loved.

The challenge lies before us now…and does so in these concluding words from Saint Theresa Benedict of the Cross: “Therefore, the Savior today looks at us solemnly, probing us, and asks us: “Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Anti-Christ has broken into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life.  The world is in flames.  But high above all flames towers the Cross.  They cannot consume it.  It is the path from earth to Heaven.”

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