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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