A Woman of Great Faith – Edith Stein
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, died in Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 51. She was sent there along with her sister and a number of priests and religious who were Jewish converts, as punishment for the opposition to the German war effort voiced in all the churches one Sunday by the Dutch Bishops.
Edith was a brilliant philosopher. She was chosen by Edmund Husserl to be an assistant in his philosophical work. Among her circle of friends was a Christian couple whose dealing with death had a great influence upon her. She would be baptized and know great pain in her mother’s feelings that she had lost her daughter. Edith did not cut herself off from her family, but stayed close them and her mother. As WWII approached she lost her university teaching position in part because she was a woman and in part because she was Jewish. She became a Carmelite sister in 1934 at the community in Cologne, moving to Holland for greater safety as the war continued.
Today we may be sharing the feelings that Teresa Benedicta of the Cross felt as we see war and violence engulf many peoples. Not since WWII has there been so large a number of persons displaced from their homes by war. The reading of Habakkuk asks, ‘How Long, O Lord? I cry for help and you do not listen! I cry out violence, but you do not intervene.’ Habakkuk asks why God doesn’t do something against those who are wicked. He offers us this answer, ‘The vision has its time, presses to fulfillment, will not disappoint; wait for it, it will surely come.’
So too, does the man who approaches Jesus with his sick son. He has a vision and in the few minutes that may have seemed like an eternity he waited, his faith pressed forward, and he was not disappointed.
The faith of Edith Stein was tested on two fronts. She loved her family and was especially close to her mother. She loved her Jewishness and in her prayer grew in appreciation of God’s covenant with Israel and their being a Chosen People. When she was arrested with her sister she said that they would go to suffer for her people. With a love shared with the gospel writer of Matthew and with St. Paul, the ache of wanting Israel to know what she had found in Jesus, she must also have prayed the words of Habakkuk with faith.
The final work of Edith written just before she was arrested was ‘The Science of the Cross’. In the face injustice and evil she stood as a leader of her small, suffering flock being transported by train to the East. A witness of great faith to them as the Cross of unjust suffering and death approached.
Today Jesus encourages his disciples: even a little faith, the mustard seed sized faith, will do much. Great faith and intelligence, compassion and strength, describe the mystic Edith Stein. Let us humbly make ours the request and the questions in today’s gospel.
May the intercession of St. Teresa of the Cross and her love for Jesus help us to face the mystery of the Cross with faith?
Fr. William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.