Monday, August 8, 2016

A MODERN MARTYR


Homily for August 9th, 2016.

On an August evening in 1921 a brilliant 30-year-old Jewish woman in Germany who had long since abandoned religious belief was staying overnight with some Catholic friends. They apologized for leaving her alone: they had a previous evening engagement. Among their books their guest found the autobiography of the Spanish Carmelite, St. Teresa of Avilla. She read it through overnight and declared the next morning: “That is the truth.” She was baptized on New Year’s Day 1922. The woman’s name was Edith Stein, the saint whom we commemorate today.

          In October 1933, Edith Stein, by then well known in German university circles as a brilliant philosopher, but now excluded from academic employment by the Nazi racial laws, entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne. She took the name Teresa Benedicta a Cruce: “Teresa blessed by the cross.”  On the night of November 9/10, 1938, the Nazis instigated the notorious “Kristallnacht”, smashing Jewish shop-windows all over Germany, and torching synagogues. At the news Edith Stein, who, like St. Paul, never abandoned her identification with her own people, felt herself “paralyzed with pain.” Shortly thereafter, to avoid imperiling her fellow Sisters, she moved to a Carmelite convent in Holland. 

          At the end of July 1942 the Nazis, having invaded Holland, retaliated for the public protest of the Dutch bishops against the persecution of Jews by rounding up all Dutch Jews who had received Catholic baptism, Sister Teresa Benedicta among them, and shipped them like cattle to Auschwitz. Upon arrival they went straight to the gas chamber. The date: August 9, 1942.

          After the war Edith Stein’s Sisters put up a memorial tablet in the Cologne Carmel with the inscription: “She died as a martyr for her people and her faith.” Pope John Paul II confirmed these words on October 11, 1998, when he enrolled Edith Stein in the church’s official list of saints, with the title “martyr.” With thanksgiving therefore, we pray in this Mass:

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – Pray for us.