Friday, August 08, 2014
Edith Stein was born at Breslau on 12th October 1891 to German Jewish parents, and after her secondary education, she enrolled in the department of philosophy in the city university. In 1913, she transferred to the University of Gotingen to study under Edmund Husserl. Until the age of thirteen years, she was in effect an atheist. She had her first serious encounter with Christianity listening to Max Scheler. In 1916, she continued and completed her studies at Fribourg where she wrote her doctorate directed by Husserl. She remained working in the university until 1921. During those years, she read the autobiography of Teresa of Avila and became aware of being called to become a Catholic; she was baptized on 1st January 1922. She made her First Communion the same day and was confirmed on the following 2nd February. After her conversion, she felt herself attracted to the religious life but circumstances forced her to delay this decision until 1933. When in 1933 she lost her teaching post as a result of the anti-Jewish laws, she entered into the Carmel at Cologne on 14th October 1933, taking the name of Teresa Benedict of the Cross. On 31st December 1938 she was moved to the Carmel at Echt in Holland so as to escape the Nazi persecution of the Jews. In 1940, the situation worsened also in Holland. When the prescriptions became more severe, an attempt was made to transfer her to the Carmel in Switzerland. While the arrangements were being negotiated for her move, the deportations of the Jews to the concentration camps began in Holland. Sister Teresa, accompanied by her sister Rosa who had also become a Catholic, was taken to Amersfort on 2nd August 1942. On 3rd August, she was transferred to Westerbork. On 7th August, she and her sister together with other deportees were locked in railway wagons and taken by train to the extermination camp at Auschwitz, a voyage which took two days.
Sister Teresa Benedict of the Cross died in the gas chamber the same day that she arrived at the camp at Auschwitz, Sunday 9th August 1942, and her body was burned in one of the crematoria there. She was beatified on 1 May 1987 and canonized on 11 October 1998 by Pope John Paul II. On 2 October 1999 the same Pope proclaimed her co-patron of Europe.
Edith Stein is a modern martyr, a symbol of the unity of faith and reason, seeker of truth and lover of the Cross. She was a personification of modern man's search for the meaning of life. Edith was endowed with an extraordinary intellect and a deep sense of love for the truth. Her Jewish faith anchored her in Scriptures and her pursuit of truth brought her to the person of Jesus who described himself as the Way, Truth and Life. Her deep identification with her people made her see herself as modern day Queen Esther, who risked her life, to save the fate of the Jewish People. Edith, understood her Carmelite vocation as a holocaust, a participation in the sufferings of Jesus. St. Teresa Benedicta shows us that the intellectual life is no hindrance to a life of Faith and that a true seeker of truth ultimately finds his or her way to the reality of God. Her famous statement: "One who searches for truth, is searching for God, whether one knows it or not." She holds up the banner of the Cross. She shows us that despite the darkness caused by evil in the world, the light of the Cross of Christ, triumphs in the end.