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St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Edith Stein, Saint Sr. Benedicta of the Cross


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A photo of Edith Stein before her professed life as a Carmelite nun, and later as Sr. Benedicta of the Cross. Edith was born a German Jew and distinguished herself as an excellent scholar, eventually becoming as associate of Edmund Husserl, the famous philosopher. An interesting aspect of the school of Phenomenology was its analysis of events and issues as we encounter them, suspending any preconceived notions or prejudices. Some think this is why she became open to Catholic teachings, eventually embracing them completely and converting  to the Catholic faith. 

She entered the Carmelite order in Germany, eventually being transferred to a Carmel in Holland as the Nazis rose to power in Germany. For a short time, she lived safely in the obscurity of the convent, even after Hitler invaded the Netherlands, composing, at the direction of her superiors, a work she entitled "The Science of the Cross," which discussed the spirituality of St. John of the Cross. In reprisal for the Pastoral Letter issued by the Dutch Catholic church against the Nazis, among the first groups of Jews sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz from the Netherlands were thousands of Jewish converts to Catholicism, among them Edith Stein and her sister (who by this time had also converted to Catholicism and had become a Carmelite nun).

It was not only philosophical and theological ideas which attracted her to Catholicism, but the love of Jesus Christ for us. She was particularly moved when as she toured a church before her conversion, a street vendor selling flowers came into the church, put aside her flowers and spent many minutes in prayer before picking up her flowers and resuming her day. Edith wanted to be able to pray to a God with whom she could have such a personal relationship and who mattered in our everyday lives.

She is one of the patron saints of Europe - a reminder of the time when several leading intellectuals were attracted to Catholicism instead of mocking it. She experienced oppression as a woman by the German academic community and as Jew by the Nazis but was never embittered. She, along with St. Maximillian Kolbe have been called "martyrs of love" by St. Pope John Paul II.

 

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