Edith Stein

Today is the feast day of Edith Stein, one of the most well-known and revered German women of the last century.  She was an internationally celebrated author, philosopher, lecturer and women’s advocate.

Edith was born into an Orthodox Jewish family , but decided in her early teens she no longer believed in God.  Later, at a time when she was suffering from depression, she picked up the autobiography of Teresa of Avila.  She was enthralled by Teresa’s insights about love and truth and Teresa’s witness to the possible depths of interior prayer.  This was a life-changing experience for Edith.  She purchased a catechism and a missal and asked a parish priest if she could join the Catholic Church.  On New Year’s Day in 1922, she was baptized.

Like all those we label mystics, Edith was drawn to prayer and yet her interior prayer life was inseparably connected with her exterior work.  She wrote that after her morning prayer:

My soul…will be filled with holy joy, courage, and energy.  Because my soul has left itself and entered into divine life, it has become great and expansive.  Love burns in it like a composed flame which the Lord has enkindled, and which urges my soul to render love and inflame love in others.

When Edith was 42, she fulfilled her dream of entering the Carmelite order, becoming Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  After the intensification of the persecution of Jews in Germany, she was transferred to the Carmelite convent in Holland, where she began writing a book on John of the Cross and the mystery, suffering and victory of the cross.  When the Nazi’s invaded Holland, she was given permission to transfer to Switzerland, but did not want to leave her sister, who was still in Holland.

On July 26, 1942, in a pastoral letter read from every pulpit in the country, the Catholic Bishops of Holland denounced the Nazis, asking for justice and peace for the Jewish people.  One week later, the SS arrested Edith, her sister and all other Jewish Catholics.

Eyewitness accounts of Edith’s final days recount that her Carmelite habit, emblazoned with the Star of David, and her calm exterior distinguished her from other detainees.  She was seen comforting and consoling the anxious women and ministering to the needs of the children. She was among hundreds put to death on August 9, 1942.  She was canonized in 1998 and designated by Pope John Paul II as a co-patroness of Europe, in recognition of her widespread influence throughout the European continent.

Today we remember this extraordinary woman.

Note: You can find my friend Maria Scaperlanda’s wonderful blog post on Edith Stein here .  Maria has also written a book on Edith, which is reference in her blog post.

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Come Away and Rest Awhile

I always write a post like this at some point during the summer: The post I write when I get back from retreat and encourage folks to heed the invitation to come away a rest a while.

I just returned from five days private retreat in a hermitage that is part of Wellspring Farms, the only Community Supported Retreat model I know of.  It was a blessed experience.

After a busy first part of the summer: two weddings in different parts of the country, directing at two Ignatian directed retreats, helping my daughter with her move from Knoxville, and teaching a graduate course in World Spiritualities, it was time for me to take some time away – to just be with God with no distractions.

My hermitage was comfortable, the forest path gave me my favorite environment for walking, with the possible exception of the labyrinth (which is always a powerful experience for me), a paddle boat on the lake allowed me to float contentedly, and the weather was generally glorious.  (Even the hailstorm was an occasion for giving glory to God.)

Here are some pictures.  I share them with the hope they will inspire those who can, but have not yet done so, to take some time for just you and God.

Take Lord, Receive

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I describe myself as having an Ignatian spirituality and so today is a special one for me, as it is for all those who share that spirituality – the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

In his early life, Ignatius was a gambler, a ladies man, a soldier. He found God in an interesting way. Ignatius was injured in battle, struck by a cannon ball that wounded one leg and broke the other. When the injury healed, one of his legs was shorter than the other, with a visible lump where a bone protruded. This was completely unacceptable to the ladies’ man: Ignatius “considered it a fate worse than death not to be able to wear the long-tight-fitting boots and hose of the courtier.” So he told doctors to saw off the knob of bone and lengthen the leg.

During his long recuperation, when he asked for something to read (hoping for some romance novels), he was told that all that was available were two books, one on the life of Christ and one on the lives of the saints. Probably on little more than the idea that anything was better than nothing, he started to read. The more he read, the more he came to see that the lives of the saints were worthy of imitating. But at the same time, he continued to daydream of fame and glory, fantasizing about winning the love of beautiful women.

Then Ignatius started to notice something. Reading and thinking about the lives of the saints and daydreaming about his expoits in war and love both brought him enjoyment while he was engaged in the activity. But he noticed that after reading and thinking of saints and Christ, he experienced feelings of peace and satisfaction. After his daydreams, he felt restless and unsatisfied. This was the beginning of Ignatius’ conversion and the beginning of his spiritual discernment or discernment of spirits, which is so central to Ignatian spirituality.

Ultimately, Ignatius came to understand how God is involved with the world he created and with each one of us. His vision of God working with creation and inviting each of us to labor with Jesus changed his life. Central to that was a spirituality based on deepening a personal relationship with God and coming to see ever more deeply how God loves and works in our lives.  And that realization changed him; he wanted nothing more than do labor on behalf of building God’s kingdom.

Here is the prayer Ignatius wrote that I pray every morning:

Take Lord, and receive
all my liberty, my memory,
my understanding, and my entire will —
all that I have and call my own.
You have given it all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours;
do with it what you will.
Give me only your love
and your grace.
That is enough for me.

Blessings to all on this feast of St. Ignatius!

Where is God?

I am reading The Road of Hope: A Gospel from Prison, by the late Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who was beatified by Pope Francis last year.

Van Thuan spent thirteen years imprisoned in North Vietnam because of both his Christian witness and his relationship with the prior regime.  Nine of those 13 years were spent in solitary confinement.  After his release from prison, he spent three more years under house arrest, under constant police surveillance, before he was expelled from Vietnam and sent to Rome.  He held several positions in Rome, including President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  He died in 2002 at the age of 74.

The Road of Hope is a collection of the messages Van Thuan wrote to his people while imprisoned.  They were scribbled on scraps of paper, smuggled out of prison, copied and circulated among the community to whom he had ministered.

In the chapter on the presence of God, he writes

When we teach children to answer the question “Where is God?” with, “God is in heaven,” there is something missing.  We should add, “God is living in me.”  This answer is far more accurate and will bring them into a closer relationship with God, and greater happiness.

May of us grew up with a God “out there,” as though God was off in some far distant place, albeit one from which he could see us.  (“Don’t misbehave, God is watching”, heard many a child when I was growing up.)

What a difference it makes to our relationship with God to know that God is right here, living with us and in us.

Martha, Martha

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Martha, who we encounter in several Gospel passages.

The first time we encounter Martha in the Gospels is in the episode recorded by Luke when Jesus visited the home of Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus. We all recall the episode: While Mary sat at the feet of Jesus listening to him speak, Martha bustles around “burdened with much serving.”

When Martha complains to Jesus that she is doing all the work and and asks him to instruct her sister to help her, Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

For many of us, it is easier to serve than to let ourselves be served., Yet, writing about this passage, Sr. Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun, writes that Luke uses this incident “to stress the point that, in the presence of Jesus – no ordinary guest – the only proper thing to do is to allow him to feed us, to serve us.”

Of course, not only is there is nothing wrong with serving others, but we are called to do so.  Having said that, we have to allow ourselves to be served as well. Making a link I had never considered before, Sr. Burrows writes:

For me, it is not without significance that Luke relates the Martha and Mary story immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan. We can see that the Samaritan, consciously or not, was listening to God, looking at God and therefore recognized him immediately in the wounded man, and set to work to minister to him, for we minister to God, serve God, only in our neighbor. The priest and Levite were, like Martha, intent on serving God. Presumably they were hastening on their way to the temple to perform their respective religious duties.

The comparison reminds us that each of us is called to be both Martha and Mary. Serve others, of course. But “Only if we have the heart of Mary will our service of others be selfless.”

And that means taking time to listen, not only to serve.  Martha is not the only one who needed that reminder.

Blessed Stanley Rother

Today is the feast day of Blessed Stanley Rother, the first U.S.-born priest to be beatified.  I have written about Rother before, as he is the subject of a wonderful book by my even-more-wonderful friend, Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda, titled The Shepherd Who Didn’t Run.

Rother ministered to the poor in Guatamala at an incredibly difficult time of armed internal conflict in that country.  Among other tasks, Rother was faced with searching for the bodies of the desaparecidos – people who “went missing” by government and military action.

In an article for America Magazine,  Scaperlanda writes

“And what do we do about all this?” wrote Father Rother to a friend. “What can we do but do our work, keep our heads down, preach the Gospel of love and nonviolence.” To use Pope Francis’ image, Father Rother was a shepherd who smelled like his sheep.

Paraphrasing the words St. Paul used in Acts 13:22 to recall God’s reason for favoring King David, it is clear that Christ found in Rother “a man after his own heart,” one “who did all that was asked of him”—to the point of martyrdom.

As he wrote at the end of his final Christmas letter from the mission to his church back in Oklahoma in 1980, “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”

On July 28, 1981, Father Stanley Rother, the servant of love, was murdered in the parish rectory, martyred for the Gospel and for his sheep.

Blessed Stanley Rother, pray for us.

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Happy Feast of St. James, Fellow Peregrinos

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. James (the Greater), patron saint of Spain and namesake of the Camino de Santiago (also known as the Way of St. James.

James was one of the apostles, names by Jesus as one of the Sons of Thunder.  It is said that following the crucifixion of Jesus, James made a pilgrimage to the Iberian Peninsula to spread the word of Jesus.  After his return to Judea, he was beheaded by King Herod Agrippa.  His remains were transported by his followers back to what is today Galicia in Spain and are said to be buried in the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.  (Legend has it that the ship in which his followers brought his body lacked both rudder and sail.)  As many know, this became a popular pilgrimage destination and thousands and thousands walk the Camino each year.

I remember arriving at the Cathedral after walking the Camino Francais route and kneeling to pray at the spot said to be where James’ remains were buried.  My prayer was something like, “Hey, James, I have no idea whether you are buried here or not, but I’m here, so we might as well talk.”  Remains of James or not, it was a good place to pray.

To all of my fellow peregrinos – and to all of those who hope they may someday walk the Camino – happy feast day!