Today is the feast of St. Edith Stein (1891-1942). She was a philosopher, brilliant writer, catholic convert, Carmelite nun and martyr. When she became a Carmelite she took the name Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
Born in Breslau (Poland) to an observant Jewish family, she stopped believing in God when she was 14. She obtained her doctorate in philosophy “Summa Cum Laude” at the University of Freiburg, Germany in 1916 after writing a thesis on “The Problem of Empath.” Later, she became the assistant and collaborator of Professor Edmund Hussserl, the famous founder of the philosophical movement known as “Phenomenology.”
During this period, she was struck by an experience she never forgot. Visiting the Frankfurt Cathedral, she saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer. She would write later “this was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited, people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation.”
In the Summer of 1921, she picked up an autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, the great Carmelite reformer that led her to a journey of faith. She was drawn to the Christian faith and was baptized the year after in January 1922. After her conversion, she taught in a Dominican School in Speyer until finally she decided to enter the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of Cologne in October 1933.
In retaliation for being denounced by the Dutch bishops, the Nazis arrested all Dutch Jews who had become Christians. Sr. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa, also a Catholic, were among them. Together with many others, they died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. The young Dutch Jesuit, Fr. Jan Nota, one of her close associate said at her death: “she was a witness of God’s presence in a world where God is absent.”
Regarding Faith in God, St. Edith Stein had this to say:
“It is natural for man to seek God. All of our striving for truth and happiness is ultimately a search for the one who supports us absolutely, satisfies us absolutely, and employs us absolutely in His service. A person is not completely himself until he has found God. Anyone who seeks truth seeks God, whether or not he realizes it.”
“There is no need for us to spend our lives proving the legitimacy of religious experience. We are, however, required to declare ourselves ‘for’ or ‘against’ God. That is what we must do—to decide, and without receiving any guarantee in return. This is the great risk of faith. The path leads from believing to seeing, not the reverse. Those who are too proud to squeeze through the narrow gate are left outside. However, those who do make it through to the other side come, even in this life, to see with ever increasing clarity and experience the truth of the maxim: credo et intelligam – I believe and I shall understand.
Indeed an inspiring journey from atheism to faith!