Each day this week has been a feast. It began with the Transfiguration of the Lord on Monday, and proceeded from that day on Mount Tabor all the way up to the last century.
On Tuesday, there was Pope Saint Sixtus and his (Deacon) Companions, who were arrested in 258 AD while offering Mass in one of the catacombs, and beheaded on the spot. Four days later, Saint Lawrence, the sole remaining Deacon of the Church of Rome, was roasted to death on a gridiron. We remembered his fortitude and fidelity on Friday.
On Wednesday and Saturday, we had two of the great religious founders of the thirteenth century: first, Saint Dominic, whose friars operate one of the Roman Pontifical universities in which I studied; then Saint Clare of Assisi, who was one of the few people in history as charismatic and committed to Christ as her friend and inspiration, Saint Francis.
Thursday gave us one of my personal favorites, whom you may not know well. She is one of the newer additions to the Roman Martyrology, which is the book of Saints celebrated by the Church, and the dates on which they are remembered. Her name in religion is Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, but like many people, I refer to her most often by her given name, Edith Stein.
Edith was a Jew from Breslau, which was then in the part of Germany that after World War Two became Poland, called Wroclaw now. She was a gifted scholar who studied with the greatest philosophers of the time. She was coming into her own as a thinker of the first order when Hitler’s rise to power forced Jews out of prominence and responsibility in all fields, including the universities.
At the same time as she was growing in stature as a philosopher, she spent a weekend at friend’s vacation home, where she found on the shelf in her room the autobiography of another Saint, Theresa of Avila. Devouring it in one night, she concluded, “This is true!”
She quickly sought instruction and Baptism, and turned her gifts and intellect to understanding human thought and being in the light of Jesus Christ. As the Nazi oppression grew and the positions open to her dwindled, she taught in a convent school for girls, until becoming a Carmelite nun in Cologne.
On orders from her superiors, she fled the coming genocide to Holland, but after the German takeover there, and after objections by the Dutch bishops to the Nazi deportation of Jews, along with all Catholic priests and religious of Jewish ancestry, she was deported and killed at Auschwitz.
I have visited the church where she was baptized, and the convent where she taught. I was allowed to kneel on the prie-dieu on which she prayed, and looked at papers that she graded, and manuscripts of her masterworks of philosophy. I love her spiritual poetry.
I feel like I know her, and want you to be able to do the same. She is one of the great philosophers of the last century, thoroughly approachable and intelligible as a soul in love with Christ, and a hero in the face of great evil. One of the saints and martyrs who is easy to see as also being one of us struggling to be faithful in the modern world, it is an annual delight to keep her feast.