October 13, 2017

339 Years After Her Death, Saint Teresa of Ávila Converted Edith Stein [Saint Teresa Benedicta]

St. Teresa of Ávila & St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Saint Teresa of Ávila, the 16th century Carmelite nun, mystic, reformer and doctor, was graced with spiritual insights into prayer, the soul and the ineffable love of God. With the blessing of Pope Pius IV, she departed her cloister at Avila, and together with Saint John of the Cross, set up a reformed Carmelite Order in Spain and Portugal. Throughout her life, she endured great suffering with joy and equanimity. Among her literary works, her autobiography (The Life of Teresa of Jesus) is a testament to the power of faith and living in imitation of Jesus Christ.

Born in 1891, Edith Stein grew up in a devout Jewish family, but would espouse atheism as an aspiring academic and activist. A young woman with immense intellectual gifts, she dedicated herself to the search for truth. After extensive studies at major German universities, Edith became an influential philosopher in her own right, and a renowned speaker on feminism. In 1913, she enrolled in Gottingen University, to study under the guidance of Edmund Husserl. There she encountered Catholics whose intellectual and spiritual lives she greatly admired.

While visiting Catholic friends, Edith came across the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Ávila, and spent the entire night reading it. The next year, (January 1, 1922) she was baptized into the Catholic Church. After her conversion to Catholicism, she continued to be a major force in German intellectual life. Although she had intended to do so following her conversion, Edith entered the Discalced Carmelites in 1933. (The Order founded by Saint Teresa of Ávila.)

Her commencement of religious life coincided with the Nazi's consolidation of power in Germany. After the Kristallnacht attacks of November 1938, it was decided that it would be safer for her, and for the Carmel in Cologne where she resided, if Sr. Teresa Benedicta transferred to the Carmel at Echt in Holland. This occurred on New Year’s Eve night, 1938. Germany invaded Holland in 1940. Sr. Teresa Benedicta was arrested with her religious community on August 7, 1942. She was transported to the Auschwitz death camp where she died two days later.

Dear reader, never forget the power of your witness — in word, deed or memory, to lead others to Christ. St. Teresa of Ávila and St. Teresa Benedicta, pray for us.

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