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.