St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

It is strange how an apparently trivial image can impress itself on the brain to the exclusion of others. This morning at Vigils I kept coming back to an incident in the life of St Teresa Benedicta which we know of only by hearsay. The train which carried her to Auschwitz stopped at Breslau, the town where she had grown up, and the gate of one of the trucks was opened for some reason. One of the railwaymen reported that a woman dressed as a nun stood in the open doorway and looked out over the city, murmuring that she would never see it again. It is a scene easy to imagine. The stifling August afternoon; the smell of coal and human sweat; the despair in the trucks; men going about their ordinary tasks outside. It reminds us that heroic sanctity doesn’t look particularly heroic to onlookers: it is ordinary, drab, even dull. It is only later that we see its significance, how it illumines and redeems the evil it confronts.

I have written about St Teresa Benedicta before, both in iBenedictines and its predecessor, Colophon, (e.g. see here), but this morning it is that image of the saint gazing at Breslau which stays with me. She was brave and she was brilliant, but instead of the anger we might have expected, there was a calm acceptance of the death she was to undergo. Her last words to her sister Rosa were allegedly, ‘Come, let us die for our people.’ She is one of the few people who have managed to live up to her name, ‘of the Cross’; and like the Saviour who hung there for us,  she ‘was never wroth’. There is a lesson there for all of us.

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10 thoughts on “St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)”

  1. Sister, Thank you for an introduction to a Saint that I hadn’t heard of before. You are right, her story is one of resignation and trust in God to make things right.

    I wonder how many of us would have been so accepting? It’s a hard cross to bear. I suspect that many would be angry and hate filled, railing against the unfairness of it all – although, in that particular situation many were actually in the delusion that they were just being moved to a new area, they had no idea that they were being sent to their ultimate deaths.

    Perhaps the lesson for me in particular is that no matter how bad it gets, it could be much worse as St Teresa Benedicta obviously knew and accepted.

    • Thank you, Ernie. I think, for many of us, the Holocaust is baffling as well as distressing. I remember many of the parents and grandparents of people I grew up with had that horrible number tattooed on their arm — and they were the ‘lucky’ ones. St Teresa Benedicta should have been safe in her Carmel in Holland, but once the Dutch bishops spoke out against Nazism, her fate was sealed.

  2. reading the lives of the Saints can, sometimes, leave me wondering about their sanity or motive, but to read the life of Edith Stein is a refresher course on why we cling to our Faith no matter what life throws at us.

  3. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of a saint. It inspired me to look again at someone I had previously found inaccessible, and although I cannot begin to understand most of her work, I found this more than worth a day’s reading;-
    “In the knowledge that being holds me, I rest securely…. in my fleeting being I share in enduring being. This security is not the self assurance of one who under her own power stands on firm ground, but rather the sweet and blissful security of a child that is lifted up and carried by a strong arm.”
    Some time ago, I think in relation to St Anselm, a posting here urged us to ‘do theology’. Today I have felt gently led by this glimpse of a nearly contemporary saint into doing theology. Thank you, Sister.

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