Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, or Edith Stein. She was born into a Jewish family, but became a decided atheist in her youth. She grew into a brilliant intellectual, writer, and philosopher. Her search for truth lead her into the Catholic Church, and into religious life as a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa Benedicta of the of the Cross. Eventually, under growing persecution, she was executed at Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. She offered her life for her persecuted and suffering Jewish people.
These days we are anxious, worried and rightly horrified by many things. We wonder what we should do. Or maybe at times we fill our mouths (and our screens) with argument. Maybe we try to do our part, but we wonder what good we really do or of we are doing the right things? We are people of prayer, but perhaps we worry that it doesn’t seem to comfort us or anyone else. Maybe we wonder if our prayer actually changes anything.
What does the life and the death of Edith Stein have to say to us?
What tremendous inner power enabled her to continue to live deeply a life of prayer, love, and single minded searching for God and truth as the world darkened around her?
What motivated and empowered her, even on the train to the death camp, to brush the children’s hair and show them love when their own mothers had gone blank with terror?
What lead her to prayerfully and meaningfully offer her life, when she was executed, to God, for her people?
She would say that her love, spiritual intuition, and courage came from the practice of inner prayer, in contemplating the face of Christ, and the mystery of His Cross, from the magnifying grace Jesus fills His disciples with when they open their hearts to it.
She wrote beautifully about the mysterious power of drawing near to Christ. She knew the ability this gives us to be close to and to touch those who suffer anywhere and everywhere. She knew that in God, she could change hearts, and pour the love of Jesus into a world sickened by violence, indifference, madness, and fear.
When she was confronted by inhumanity and brutality, even as she suffered the same experiences the others were suffering, she was able to love and serve those around her.
By immersing herself in God’s love every day, she was prepared to be love in the most heartless of places, and to give her life in union with the sacrifice of Jesus, releasing a tide of grace and mercy for all by her sacrificial prayer and offering. She turned evil on its head, echoing her beloved Lord.
We know from the Gospel that Jesus lifts us up when we pray, that He loves to give His healing power of mercy into our hands, as He did when He sent out the disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and bring peace.
Edith Stein faced her death with sacrificial love and prayer, offering herself to God for others.
What if, in our own way, right now, we offered our lives, too?
What would that do?
When we unite ourselves to Christ completely, we free and open our hearts for Him to direct and guide, to fill with whatever graces He wants to see there.
In prayerful union with Him, we will be led where He wants us to be each day, and respond to each person and situation from a mysterious reserve of inner freedom, courage, and love.
In our prayer, God will take us all over the world like the wind of the Spirit; walking through doors, bringing the sweet breath of peace, calling others forth.
Then the floods of that divine love will flow into [your heart,] making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth. ~ Edith Stein
Maybe we can pray something like this:
God, I offer myself and my life to You, for those who suffer violence, for the persecuted, the unloved, the misunderstood. I offer my life and death for the relief of suffering, for peace, for the conversion of hearts to mercy and love; and that the knowledge of You will fill the earth; fill every relationship, every heart.
Wherever there is suffering, or a lack of love, where there is terror, fear, injustice, or a need for You, take me there, put me there- either in time and space, or in the super-imposition of prayer.
Let me kiss every face.
Let me hold every hand.
Let me be your peace.
Let me be your love.
Whatever it takes.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us.
- Art by Mark Hudgins