Endow Weekly

St. Edith Stein | Seeker of Truth – Week 7

Week Seven: The Long Night Begins

Consider the Intellectual

Chapter 7 begins, “Kristallnacht. 1938. Broken glass, raging fires, wanton acts of terror against Jews in Germany.” For those who do not know, “The Night of the Broken Glass,” (Kristallnacht) happened on November 9, 1938, as a “pogrom directed at terrorizing the Jewish population by attacking synagogues, setting fires, defacing homes and property, and savagely attacking and beating citizens of Jewish ancestry.”

Edith, or Sr. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, was moved from the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Germany to the convent in Echt, Holland for safety. It was in Holland that her religious superiors asked her to continue her philosophical and religious writing. She wrote The Science of the Cross and Life in a Jewish Family. The former book is an analysis of St. John of the Cross’ theology and the latter an autobiography chronicling her family’s experiences of persecution. It was never finished and “lay open on her desk the day she was arrested.”

Consider the Emotional

At the time of her and her sister’s arrest, Edith encouraged her traumatized sister, “Come Rosa, we go for our people.” Edith felt a unique calling to unite her sufferings with Christ for the Jewish people.

The theme that keeps striking me throughout the ups and downs of Edith’s life is her acceptance of peace when she had every reason to be in a state of severe depression and disturbance. Two verses from Scripture come to mind:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Keeping her gaze on the crucified Jesus seems to be the only reasonable explanation for not only her calm but also her capacity for charity when others needed her feminine genius and spiritual motherhood the most:

“It was Edith Stein’s complete calm and self-possession that marked her out from the rest of the prisoners…many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children…Edith immediately set about taking care of these little ones…”

Consider the Spiritual

On August 9, 1942, Edith and her sister Rosa as well as the other 262 people in their group were gassed with Zyklin-B and their bodies burned. Author Freda Mary Oben writes, “Her labors are over. She climbed the mountain to the top. With Christ, she was nailed to the Cross.”

Edith is considered a martyr because the “formal and immediate cause of the deportation and consequent killing of Catholic Jews of Holland was the wish to punish the Catholic Church for its protest, therefore the odium fidei (hatred of the faith) and not hatred of the race.” (The ultimate cause was of course Nazi hatred for Judaism). Please take the time to read How Edith Stein Is a Christian Martyr for more details as to the historical circumstances of Nazi-occupied Holland and the justification for Edith’s place among Christian martyrs.

Sometimes, as Christians, we seek to use God in order to enjoy life. (Think the heresy of the “prosperity Gospel.”) Instead, the martyr not only consents in mind but in freedom to the reality that God is meant to be enjoyed and it is only things that are to be used:

“We have wandered far from God; and if we wish to return to our Father’s home, this world must be used, not enjoyed, that so the invisible things of God may be clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,-that is, that by means of what is material and temporary we may lay hold upon that which is spiritual and eternal.” ~St. Augustine