August 9th is the Feast Day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was martyred on that day in 1942 in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Fr. Charles P. Connor, in Classic Catholic Converts, writes:
The story of the Jewish Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Edith Stein, presents us with one of the more brilliant converts to come to the Faith in [the twentieth] century; it also places us in close contact with a horrendous tragedy of the modern world, the Holocaust.Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany on October 12, 1891, the youngest of eleven children. In 1913 she began studies at the University of Göttingen in Germany. She soon became a student of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and was later attracted to the work of Max Scheler, a Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism in 1920. A chance reading of the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila revealed to her the God of love she had long denied. She entered the Church in 1922.
For eight years Edith lived with the Dominicans, teaching at Saint Magdelene's, which was a training institute for teachers. She wrote:
Initially, when I was baptized on New Year's Day, 1922, I thought of it as a preparation in the Order. But a few months later, when I saw my mother for the first time after the baptism, I realized that she couldn't handle another blow for the present. Not that it would have killed her—but I couldn't have held myself responsible for the embitterment it would have caused.In fact, after her conversion Edith continued to attend synagogue with her mother. Meanwhile, she continued to grow and impress as a philospher. In 1925 she met the Jesuit Erich Pryzwara, a philosopher who would have a tremendous influence on Hans Urs von Balthasar. Pryzwara encouraged Edith to study and translate St. Thomas Aquinas; she eventually wrote a work comparing Usserl with Aquinas.
In 1933 Edith entered the religious life with the Carmel of Cologne, Germany. She fell in love with the person and writing of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She wrote:
My impression was, that this was a life which had been absolutely transformed by the love of God, down to the last detail. I simply can't imagine anything greater. I would like to see this attitude incorporated as much as possible into my own life and the lives of those who are dear to me.After taking her first vows, Edith was known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She continued to write, Fr. Connor notes, "continually developing the theme that Christ's sacrifice on the Cross and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are in fact one and the same sacrifice. From her religious background, she knew the importance of sacrificial prayer for Old Testament prophets." She wrote of how Jesus' sacrifice as the Incarnate God-man was the final, perfect sacrifice that replaced all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
Because of the rise of Nazi power, Edith and her sister Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism, moved to Holland in 1938. On August 2, 1942, Edith and her sister were taken from the convent by two S.S. officers. She was martyred seven days later. Fr. Connor writes: "On October 11, 1998, fifty-six years, two months, and two days after her death at Auschwitz, Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II."
Ferdinand Holböck writes in New Saints and Blesseds of the Catholic Church : 1984-1987 (Volume 2):
The Church now presents Sister Teresa Benedicta a Croce to us as a blessed martyr, as an example of a heroic follower of Christ, for us to honour and to emulate. Let us open ourselves up for her message to us as a woman of the spirit and of the mind, who saw in the science of the cross the acme of all wisdom, as a great daughter of the Jewish people, and as a believing Christian in the midst of millions of innocent fellow men made martyrs. She saw the inexorable approach of the cross. She did not flee in fear. Instead, she embraced it in Christian hope with final love and sacrifice and in the mystery of Easter even welcomed it with the salutation,"ave crux spes unica". As Cardinal Höffner said in his recent pastoral letter, "Edith Stein is a gift, an invocation and a promise for our time. May she be an intercessor with God for us and for our people and for all people."
Books on the life and martyrdom of Edith Stein
Classic Catholic Converts
by Fr. Charles Connor
220 pages. Paperback. $14.95
Classic Catholic Converts presents the compelling stories of over 25 well-known converts to Catholicism from the 19th and 20th centuries. It tells of powerful testimonials to God's grace, men and women from all walks of life in Europe and America whose search for the fullness of truth led them to the Catholic Church. It is the witness of brilliant intellectuals, social workers, scientists, authors, film producers, clergy, businessmen, artists and others who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, studied and prayed their way into the Church. It contains a beautifully written chapter on Edith Stein.
Edith Stein: A Biography
by Waltraud Herbstrith
207 pages. Paperback. $12.95
A powerful and moving story of the remarkable Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism, became a nun, achieved remarkable success in the male-dominated world of German philosophy, and was sent to a Nazi death camp when she refused to deny her Jewish heritage.
Waltraud Herbstrith has fashioned a warm, memorable portrait of this woman who, as Jesuit philosopher Jan Nota points out in the introduction, "discovered in Christ the meaning of human existence and suffering ... Edith Stein was one of those Christians who lived out of a hope transcending optimism and pessimism." Hers is a voice that speaks powerfully to all of us today, and a life that stands as testimony to the profoundest values of human existence, the significance of the individual, and the truths of faith that can reconcile Christian and Jew, philosophy and religion, oppressor and oppressed to heal a troubled world.
New Saints and Blesseds of the Catholic Church, Vol. II (1984-1987)
by Ferdinand Holböck
320 pages. Paperback. $14.95
In this second volume of New Saints and Blesseds of the Catholic Church are depicted the lives and deaths, the struggles and battles of those women and men who were raised to the honors of the altar by Pope John Paul II during the fours years from 1984 through 1987, in forty-nine beatification ceremonies and in seven canonization liturgies.
Among them are Blesseds and Saints from a wide variety of countries, languages, ages and walks of life: lay people, religious, priests, and bishops, confessors and martyrs, including Edith Stein, Elizabeth of the Trinity, Titus Brandsma, Teresa of the Andes, and many more. All of them not only deserve reverence, but are worthy of imitation in their striving for perfection, in their fidelity to the Catholic faith and to the Church of Jesus Christ.