HEART OF PRAYER
“The limitless loving devotion to God, and the gift God makes of Himself to you, are the highest elevation of which the heart is capable; it is the highest
degree of prayer. The souls that have reached this point are truly the heart of the Church.” Edith Stein
(I say any believer can go there: God wants to draw each of us into His intimate love and presence.)
The story of
the Jewish Carmelite Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Edith Stein, presents us with one of the more brilliant converts
to come to the Faith in [the twentieth] century; it also places us in close contact with a horrendous tragedy of the modern world, the Holocaust.
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Edith Stein was born in Breslau, Germany on October 12, 1891, the youngest of eleven children. In 1913 she began studies at the University of Göttingen
in Germany. She soon became a student of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl and was later attracted to the work of Max Scheler, a Jewish philosopher who
converted to Catholicism in 1920. A chance reading of the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila revealed to her the God of love she had long denied. She entered the Church in 1922.
For eight years Edith lived with the Dominicans, teaching at Saint Magdelene’s, which was a training institute for teachers. She wrote:
Initially, when I was baptized on New Year’s Day, 1922, I thought of it as a preparation in the Order. But a few months later, when I saw my mother for
the first time after the baptism, I realized that she couldn’t handle another blow for the present. Not that it would have killed her—but I couldn’t have
held myself responsible for the embitterment it would have caused.
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In fact, after her conversion Edith continued to attend synagogue with her mother. Meanwhile, she continued to grow and impress as a philosopher. In 1925
she met the Jesuit Erich Pryzwara, a philosopher who would have a tremendous influence on Hans Urs von Balthasar. Pryzwara encouraged Edith to study and translate St. Thomas Aquinas; she eventually wrote a work comparing Usserl with Aquinas.
In 1933 Edith entered the religious life with the Carmel of Cologne, Germany. She fell in love with the person and writing of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
My impression was, that this was a life which had been absolutely transformed by the love of God, down to the last detail. I simply can’t imagine anything greater. I would like to see this attitude incorporated as much as possible into my own life and the lives of those who are dear to me.
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Because of the rise of Nazi power, Edith and her sister Rosa, who had also converted to Catholicism, moved to Holland in 1938. On August 2, 1942, Edith and her sister were taken from the convent by two S.S. officers. She was martyred seven days later. Fr. Connor writes: “On October 11, 1998, fifty-six
years, two months, and two days after her death at Auschwitz, Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope John Paul II.”