St Edith Stein

(Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) (entered heaven this day in 1942, gassed in the death chambers of Auschwitz)

Dear Emily,

One thing about your generation never ceases to amaze me.  You seem completely averse to inviting non-Catholics to become Catholics.  Why is that, I wonder? Is it because you yourself don’t believe in your own faith?  Can’t be. I know that you do, and you make real sacrifices in order to be faithful to it.  Is it because you doubt your ability to explain it convincingly? Maybe, but you’re always spouting off about other types of things you don’t fully understand, so I doubt that’s really the reason.  Is it because you’re afraid of what they will think of you if you try to attract them to the truth? Probably. Nobody wants to be branded a zealot these days. That’s understandable, but also unacceptable.  The Catholic faith is the answer, it’s the truth, it’s the way to personal and social peace and prosperity, it gives authentic meaning to life – for all these reasons, you should be eager to share it, to discuss it, to understand it better and explain it as often as you get the chance.  Don’t simply preach to the choir; God is eagerly waiting for you to be his ambassador to the lives of the most unlikely converts – the head of the pro-choice club on campus, the Campus Crusade for Christ leaders, even the B’nai B’rith president are all loved by God and on his adoption list.  The power of your example and your words could bring them into the Kingdom. Really. Today’s saint is a prime example.

She came from a large, devout Jewish family in Germany.  And she was brilliant. So brilliant that she joined the cutting edge intellectual atheist trend when she was only twelve years old.  In order to be accepted to university in Germany at the time (this was the early twentieth century) she had to prove that she was not only equal to but even more accomplished than her male counterparts.  She did so. And she received her Ph.D. in philosophy, under the tutelage of the great Edmund Husserl, when she was only 25 years old – a towering achievement for that day and age.

One of Husserl’s assistants was a practicing Christian.  Edith became fast friends with him and his wife. He was killed in the prime of his life, in 1917, and it was a turning point for Edith, though not for the reasons you may be thinking.  Edith went to visit the young widow, to console her. But instead of finding her distraught and depressed, Anna Reinach was composed, at ease, and even joyful; her Christian faith had given her the vision and the strength to accept the tragedy and confide in God’s Providence.  This was Edith’s first encounter with the power of Christ’s cross.

As she continued her philosophy career, someone lent her a copy of St Theresa of Avila’s autobiography, which Edith read straight through, in one night.  The next day she went out and bought a Catholic Catechism. She read that straight through. Then she went to Mass, and afterwards she asked the priest for baptism.  He insisted that she receive formal instruction; she countered that she had already received it and challenged him to ask her anything. He did. She answered. She was baptized soon after.

Although she longed to enter a convent right away, she was advised to serve the Church in the world for a while.  So for the next twelve years she taught school, gave informal lectures, served the poor, and learned to pray. Finally, with the advent of Hitler’s Third Reich, she entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne.  As the Nazi regime enforced its Final Solution, her presence at the convent became dangerous, so she was transferred to another convent in Holland. But the Nazis conquered Holland, and when the Catholic hierarchy there vociferously protested their atrocities, Hitler responded by rounding up not only the Jews, but also all the Jewish converts to Christianity, and sent them to the concentration camps.  Edith, now Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and her sister Rosa, who had also become a Catholic and lived on the convent grounds, were bustled into the cattle cars, shipped off, and died in the gas chambers.

A lot more could be said about the spirituality, the work, and the thought of St Edith Stein, but the point I want to make is that you need not be afraid of trying to help non-Catholics discover the power and beauty of the true Faith.  There’s a slew of Edith Steins out there, just waiting for someone to introduce them to Truth and Goodness. Be courageous. Be generous. God will do the rest, and the world will be exceedingly blessed.

Your earnest uncle, Eddy

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