Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was the quintessential example of penetrating intellect, social concern and personal piety. Particularly for my family and me, she is an inspiring example of continuity between Jewish heritage and Christian faith.
HARRISBURG, PA. (Catholic Online) - Soon after my family and I became Catholics, we visited Rome and the Vatican. There, among others, we met Cardinal Renato Martino, who was the Holy Father's legate to the United Nations. He is a delightful, kind and jovial man.
With a mercurial grin and a gleam in his eye he said "Now, you were Jewish, then Protestant and now you are a Catholic, you're not going anywhere from here?!"
I handed him my card which announced "Dr. Paul Chaim Benedicta Schenck" and said, "Your Excellency, I have a Greek name, a Hebrew name and a Latin name, I cannot add any more names."
My Latin name was the last one. I took it at my confirmation, to honor St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein. St. Theresa Benedicta had an abiding sense that she would die for her people, before she was ever pursued or condemned.
She came to understand the mystery of suffering as a part of her vocational invitation to participate in the continuing redemptive Love of the Cross of Jesus Christ. She offered her suffering, joined to His, as an act of love for the Jewish people, her people, especially loved by the Lord.
As a direct descendant of German and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, I found in Edith Stein's story both a reflection of my family's journey and an inspiring example of holiness and courage.
My paternal Great grandparents fled the Western Pale of Russia at the time of the pogroms, a form of ethnic cleansing as Jews were persecuted, hounded and forced to abandon their homes and flee on foot. Many, including my father's father, fled Eastern Europe and made their way to the USA.
In a modern spiritual odyssey my father's family became progressively less religious. By the time I was in Hebrew school even our Rabbi was agnostic. I opted out of Bar Mitzvah and went on a spiritual journey, found Christ as my Savior and was baptized at sixteen by an evangelical Christian minister.
After becoming an evangelical pastor, then an Anglican clergyman, my family and I came into fullness of the Christian faith and were received into the Catholic Church in 2004. Under the Pastoral Provision begun by Blessed Pope John Paul II, and with the permission of Pope Benedict XVI, I was ordained a Catholic priest in 2010.
Edith Stein was the youngest of seven children born to Orthodox Jewish parents on the Polish German border. Her father was a successful businessman who died when Edith was only six years old. Her mother was a remarkable woman who maintained their lumber mill and supported her family and raised Edith and her siblings as a widow.
In the spirit of the times, Edith lost her faith and became an atheist. A bright student, she entered the university and took her Doctoral degree under the great modern philosopher Edmund Husserl. She was a promising female philosopher, lecturer and author when she encountered Saint Theresa of Avila's autobiography. After a marathon reading she wrote in her journal "This is the truth." She was baptized by the parish priest and took the confirmation name "Theresa".
She began a new translation of Saint Thomas Aquinas, lectured widely on philosophy and became a Catholic representative of women's rights. After Hitler rose to power her books were banned and she was prohibited from teaching and speaking.
Discerning her vocation to religious life, she entered the Carmelite Order along with her sister Rosa and made her solemn vows. She took the religious name of Benedicta (for St. Benedict) of the Cross (for Saint John of the Cross, St. Theresa's co-founder of the Carmelite Reform and another of Edith's mentors).
In an effort to protect her from further persecution, her community sent her away to Holland. When the Nazis invaded, all Catholics of Jewish descent were transported to the extermination camps, Edith and Rosa among them.
Edith Stein, St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, died with her sister in the gas chamber at Auschwitz. The last words she spoke upon her arrest by the Gestapo were "Come Rosa, we go for our people."
The testimony of survivors, Jewish and Christian, was that this powerful, courageous, intellectual and deeply spiritual woman spent her last days leading prayers and devotions, counseling distraught women, bathing, feeding and caring for their children, and encouraging her fellow prisoners.
One camp survivor said she was just like the presence of an angel. Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross was the quintessential example of penetrating intellect, social concern and personal piety. Particularly for my family and me, she is an inspiring example of continuity between Jewish heritage and Christian faith.
In our time, as we struggle to bring the light of Faith into a culture of death, Edith Stein's life of intellectual rigor, philosophical insight, spiritual depth and social activism is an example for Catholics and all people of conscience who seek the Common Good.
Edith Stein, St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us!
By Deacon F.K. Bartels
St. Teresa's whole life is one of simple beauty and fervent purpose; it is a life contained in Christ. She shows us how to live the same way through Prayer.On reading from St. Teresa, a deep feeling of her love for His Majesty envelops us; we begin, in a very real, ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith Fournier
If Christ Jesus dwells in a man as his friend and noble leader, that man can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend. And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his ... continue reading
By St. Francis of Assisi
We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather we must be simple, humble and pure. We should never desire to be over others. Instead, we ought to be servants who are submissive to every human being for God's sake. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on all ... continue reading
By St Therese of Lisieux
O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its ... continue reading
By Deacon F. K. Bartels
The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us - The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition (328). Charged by God to ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith A Fournier
God and his angels look down upon us; Christ, who looks on as we do battle in the contest of faith. What great dignity and glory are ours, what happiness to struggle in the presence of God and to be crowned by Christ our judge. Let us be armed with a great ... continue reading
By F. K. Bartels
If there is any message which can be drawn from St. Augustine's life, and there are many, it is the message of repentance and conversion. This is a message the world desperately needs to hear today. It is one of heartfelt dedication to Christ as Master, Teacher and ... continue reading
By Deacon F.K. Bartels
It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the ... continue reading
By Deacon F. K. Bartels
We learn from St. Clare both the importance of giving one's life to Christ as well as the sublime, eternal rewards of doing so. When we leave the fleeting, temporary created objects of the world behind, no longer placing our trust in them or seeing them as inordinately ... continue reading
By Fr. Paul Chaim Benedicta Schenck
August 9 is the Memorial of St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, Edith Stein, Catholic feminist, philosopher and martyr of Auschwitz. In this sketch, Fr. Paul Chaim Benedicta Schenck, Jewish born priest and Chair of the National Pro-Life Center (Washington, DC), examines the ... continue reading