Tuesday, August 9, 2011

St Edith, The Bridge Builder

Today is the feast of St Edith Stein, or St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross as she is known in Carmel.  Here in Europe we celebrate her feast as a patron of the continent.  Yesterday reflecting on Blessed Clemens von Galen we saw great courage in a bishop who put his life on the line to preach the truth and condemn the anti-human and anti-Christian beliefs and practices of Nazi tyranny.  Today we celebrate the life and witness of another who stood up to Nazi oppression albeit in a different way.

There are many things in St Edith's life which merit deep reflection.  The story of her conversion rivals that of St Augustine and Blessed John Henry Newman.  Her difficult journey to faith is marked by graces and intellectual triumphs which brought her to the autobiography of St Teresa of Avila which led her to finally submit to Christ. 

Her intellectual life and contribution to philosophical thought also demand our attention, though she is difficult to read and her writings may not be accessible to many.  There are scholars who believe that she was the one who put shape on Edmund Husserl's philosophy, phenomenology.  Her writings on women and their role not only in the Church, but in life, are revolutionary and challenge the atheistic radical feminism which has reduced women to a parody of men.  St Edith's work here needs to be studied and may indeed form a firm foundation for a theology of womanhood.

However it was her death which was the most glorious moment of her life.  As a Jewish woman - a Jewishness she did not lose with her conversion but, as she constantly reminded people, a Jewishness which came into its own with her embracing Christ - she came to share in her people's fate offering her life in union with Christ for their sake.  "Let us go for the sake of our people" she said to her sister Rosa when they were arrested: Edith understood what she was being called to do: to suffer with her people, with the Chosen People who, under atheistic Nazis, were sharing in the cross of martyrdom.  St Edith, like Christ, is a bridge between Judaism and Christianity, and so too her death.  She was martyred for being Jewish and for being Christian, and so we rightly honour her as a martyr.  But we must also see, through her, the martyrdom of her people and this martyrdom of the Jews we must also honour: they died for the Old Covenant - a people whose very existence as the Chosen People aggravated atheistic Nazism.  I believe in order to understand the assault on faith by the Nazis we must link the martyrdom of Jews and Christians - the Old and New Covenants - as, in a sense, one martyrdom in which we see atheistic materialism's attack on faith and its attempt to wipe God from the face of the world and from the hearts of its peoples.

This assault continues today, and so St Edith's life and death has an important message for us.  First she teaches us that we must trust in God - he knows what he is doing and so we must abandon ourselves to his will.  Secondly she sought to fulfil her vocation even in the midst of an assault on her faith - she let nothing disturb her as St Teresa teaches us.  Thirdly, when she heard the call to a radical offering she embraced it immediately.  Her life of prayer and dedication to the God of her ancestors, to Christ, gave her the freedom to go.  She was prepared to make an oblation of her life for the sake of her God and her people. 

In these difficult times, may St Edith assist us and help prepare us for whatever God will ask of us even if it means embracing the cross for his sake and for the sake of our brothers and sisters, and yes, even for the sake of our enemies - that they may not be lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment