Profiles in Faith - December
|Profiles in Courage is the 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning volume of short biographies written by US President John F. Kennedy. The book describes acts of bravery and integrity by eight US Senators. As part of the Year of Faith, Veritas is proud to present Profiles in Faith, a series of essays on the life and work of twelve Christian men and women who lived their lives as ‘faith in action’. We encourage you to read the accounts, and to reflect on them over the course of the month. Additional biographical sources are also suggested, should you wish to find out more.
Profile Three: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
Edith Stein was born into an observant Jewish family in Breslau in the German Empire in October 1891. She always loved learning about the world around her. She was gifted and smart, and excelled in school. Learning was not just a task for her, she genuinely felt a sense of wonder and awe about all of God’s creation. She worked diligently to discover the greater cause of things and the connections between them. At the age of twenty-five, Edith was awarded a doctorate in philosophy, a subject that literally means ‘the love of wisdom’. The more she journeyed in search of wisdom, the greater her sense became that there might be more to understanding our world than we can learn in school or from ordinary experience. She had a deep feeling that ‘there is more to life than meets the eye’.
One day in 1921, while on holiday, Edith came across The Interior Castle, St Teresa of Ávila’s autobiography. While reading it, Edith had a ‘light-bulb’ moment; she sensed that the saint’s perspective was pointing her to answers about our world that she had been seeking for a long time. Edith became a Catholic within a year and discerned God’s call for her to enter religious life. She joined the Carmelite order in 1933, took on the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and vowed to live the gospel according to the way of the Carmelites. As a Carmelite, Teresa Benedicta continued to think and write about the world, bringing the wisdom of Christian faith to illumine how best to live one’s life.
On 26 July 1942, she was arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz because of her Jewish heritage. She died there in the gas chamber on 9 August 1942, at the age of fifty. Blessed Pope John Paul II canonised her a saint in 1998. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross courageously pursued wisdom until she found her answers to the great questions in life, which would allow her to live life to the fullest. She moved beyond philosophy to follow the ‘way’ of Jesus Christ.
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is one of the six patron saints of Europe, together with Saint Benedict of Nursia, Saints Cyril and Methodius, Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena.
A Quote from the Homily of Blessed Pope John Paul II on the Canonisation of Edith Stein
‘Dear brothers and sisters! The love of Christ was the fire that inflamed the life of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Long before she realised it, she was caught by this fire. At the beginning she devoted herself to freedom. For a long time Edith Stein was a seeker. Her mind never tired of searching and her heart always yearned for hope. She travelled the arduous path of philosophy with passionate enthusiasm. Eventually she was rewarded: she seized the truth. Or better: she was seized by it. Then she discovered that truth had a name: Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the incarnate Word was her One and All. Looking back as a Carmelite on this period of her life, she wrote to a Benedictine nun: “Whoever seeks the truth is seeking God, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Although Edith Stein had been brought up religiously by her Jewish mother, at the age of fourteen she had consciously and deliberately stopped praying. She wanted to rely exclusively on herself and was concerned to assert her freedom in making decisions about her life. At the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realisation: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free.’
- What can St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross help us to understand about the nature of freedom?
- How can the Year of Faith help you to seek truth in your own faith journey?
Previous Profiles in Faith
October: Thomas Merton
November 2012: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
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