One good brought out of the senselessness and horror of war is that it provides the circumstances wherein many are called to exercise heroic virtue, often to the point of martyrdom. These extraordinary people give inspiration and hope in the midst of terrible evil. Today’s saint – Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp – was described as “a witness to God’s presence in a world where God is absent.”
She was born Edith Stein into a large Jewish family, but as a young adult ceased to practice her religion. A highly intelligent woman, she devoted herself to the study of philosophy under the German phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, and after earning her doctorate became his teaching assistant. During this time her studies were interrupted by World War I and her service as a nurse in an Austrian field hospital, where she saw much suffering and death. Her academic and scholarly circle of friends included many Christians and she gradually was drawn to their faith. A pivotal point in her journey was reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth!” She was baptized into the Catholic Church on January 1, 1922, the feast of the Circumcision of Christ, and confirmed on the feast of the Purification of Mary. She now felt that she not only belonged to Christ spiritually, but that she also belonged to Him through her blood – “I had given up practicing my Jewish religion when I was a fourteen-year-old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God.” Twelve years later she joined the Carmelite Convent at Cologne and eight years after her profession, she was a prisoner in Auschwitz. The year before she had written to a friend, “One can only gain a knowledge of the cross if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart ‘I welcome you, Cross, our only hope.’”
|Teresa Benedicta of the Cross|
You can read a short biography of her fascinating life at the Vatican website.
Edith Stein: The Untold Story of the Philosopher and Mystic Who Lost Her Life in the Death Camps of Auschwitz by Waltraud Herbstrith
Edith Stein and Companions: On the Way to Auschwitz by Fr. P.W.F.M. Hamans