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Edith Stein

 

 

Dates: 12 October 1891 to 9 August 1942

Nationality: German Jewish

Occupation: Academic, philosopher, nun

 

Edith was brought up as a Jew, became atheist as a teenager, and converted to Christianity around the age of 30, being baptised into the Catholic Church on New Year’s Day in 1922.

 

Joining the Discalced Carmelite order in Cologne, Stein took the name Teresia Benedicta a Cruce (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). She was sent abroad by her order to protect her from the persecution of the Jews but was arrested in the Netherlands by the Gestapo on 2 August 1942 – an act of retaliation after the German bishops had spoken out against Nazi racism, leading the Nazis to arrest every priest, monk and nun with any Jewish blood. She died in Auschwitz aged 50, together with her sister who had also joined the Carmelite order. Teresa Benedicta was beatified in Cologne on 1 May 1987 and canonised in 1998.

 

Comments on converting to Catholicism

 

“My longing for truth was a single prayer.”

 

“This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot.”

(On seeing a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer.)

 

"When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth."

(On reading an autobiography of St Teresa of Avila.)

 

“All who enter Carmel must give themselves wholly to the Lord. Only one who values her little place in the choir before the tabernacle more highly than all the splendour of the world can live here, can then truly find a joy that no worldly splendour has to offer. … No human eye can see what God does in the soul during hours of inner prayer. It is grace upon grace.”

(On the history and spirit of Carmel.)

 

Comments on her own life and vocation

 

"Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust."

 

"Human activities cannot help us, but only the suffering of Christ. It is my desire to share in it."

 

"I understood the cross as the destiny of God's people, which was beginning to be apparent at the time (1933). I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody's behalf. Of course, I know better now what it means to be wedded to the Lord in the sign of the cross. However, one can never comprehend it, because it is a mystery."

 

"Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death ... so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world."

(Writing her will in June 1939.)

 

“One cannot desire freedom from the cross when one is especially chosen for the cross.”

 

Further resources

 

Any internet search will yield a huge amount of material written about this great saint of the last century. A good starting point is this Vatican document, or this account of her life from the Catholic Education Resource Center.