A brief introduction to the person and personality of one of the greatest ladies of the Catholic Church.
During her beatification, John Paul II described Edith Stein as “A personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was a synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting…and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.”
Biographical accounts will tell you, Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Poland to a Jewish family on 12 October 1891, the youngest of 11 children.
The major events of his life were: the death of her father when she was two years old; the loss of faith at age 14; regaining her faith in adulthood; the completion of her doctorate, summa cum laude, in 1917, after writing a thesis on “The Problem of Empathy”; entry into the Catholic Church on January 1, 1922; joining the Carmelite Convent of Cologne on October 14; making her final vows April 21, 1938; her arrest by the Gestapo on August 2, 1942 and deportation to Auschwitz with 987 Jews; and her death seven days later in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. She was beatified in 1987 and canonized on October 11, 1998.
But what can we learn by meeting Edith Stein?
God does not ask us to leave behind who we are at our core when he calls us to him. Rather he deepens and enhances the skills and gifts with which he created us.
On the exterior, Edith was an avid student, a brilliant philosopher, a feminist, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, a Carmelite nun.
Interiorly, the question of the suffering ran throughout the fabric of her life. In her early life, prayer seemed irrelevant to life’s challenges. It was a meeting with a young woman that radically altered Edith’s understanding of life. She described this moment, “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”
Despite obstacles in her scholarship (she was first denied a professorship because she was a woman, then later, because she was a Jew) she learned that it was possible to pursue scholarship as a service to God. God would draw her deeper into the world rather than ask her to retreat from it.
Edith presented in herself a desire to carry the cross for those who had not met the all-encompassing love of Christ. Like Queen Ester, taken from her people in order to represent them before the King. After many years absent from prayer, she wrote she “did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God” through the Catholic Church.
Let us reflect on her words:
“God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with Him. Then you will be able to rest in Him — really rest — and start the next day as a new life.”