Like the saints before and after her, Sister Teresa Benedicta enkindled a deep love for Jesus in the Eucharist and had a beautiful heart.
The story of Edith Stein is a harrowing one.
Practicing Judaism in her youth, an atheist in her teen and young-adult years, and, eventually, a baptized Catholic and Discalced Carmelite, God clearly had his hand on this woman from the beginning.
Born in 1891 in Breslau, Germany — now Wroclaw, Poland — Edith was one of 11 children. Disinterested in faith altogether after her father’s death, it wasn’t until she discovered the Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila that she felt she had found the truth. Upon fulfilling her vocation to enter Camel, Edith took the name Sister Teresia Beneditca a Cruce (or “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross”).
Sister Teresa was a bright mind and a force to be reckoned with. She spent a great deal of time reading, writing and studying, with a particular interest in phenomenology.
In 1942, Sister Teresa was living at the Carmel house in Nazi-occupied Cologne, Germany. While in prayer in the chapel, she was arrested by the Gestapo. Along with several other sisters, Sister Teresa was executed in a gas chamber one week later, on Aug. 9, 1942.
Of course, there is much more to her story. But even this condensed version lends a glimpse into Sister Teresa’s heart. Through further study, it seems that, among many things, Edith Stein can be known and loved as a Eucharistic champion, a witness of surrender and a vessel of grace.
Like the saints before and after her, Sister Teresa Benedicta enkindled a deep love for Jesus in the Eucharist. It was in adoration that she experienced the tangible presence of Jesus and found great comfort and consolation. She wrote, “Only in daily, confidential relationship with the Lord in the tabernacle can one forget self, be free of all one’s own wishes and pretensions, and have a heart open to all the needs and wants of others” (Essays on Woman).
She further noted, “This heart, it beats for us in a small tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that still, white host” (The Hidden Life).
May Sister Teresa’s devotion for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament inspire us to carve out time from our busy schedule to meet Jesus in the Eucharist, even if just for a short while, especially amid the National Eucharistic Revival.
In her writings, Sister Teresa often discussed the importance of total surrender to the will of God. It is only through surrender, she explained, that we find true freedom. This is incredibly challenging with human efforts! But the eternal rewards will be great, and surrender often brings us peace in this valley of tears.
As Sister Teresa shared her insights, “When we entrust all the troubles of our earthly existence confidently to the divine heart, we are relieved of them. Then our soul is free to participate in the divine life” (Essays on Woman).
In a world that tells us to clench onto our worldly belongings and achievements, Sister Teresa is encouraging us to do the opposite. As we relinquish our grip on these things and place them at the foot of the cross, we allow ourselves to become more united to the Lord and his perfect plan for us.
May we practice this each day by saying a small act of surrender, and, as such, may we experience true freedom. (“O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything!”)
As Catholics, we believe that the Lord’s grace is always sufficient for whatever crosses we may experience.
Edith Stein reminds us that we have the privilege and duty to open ourselves up to this grace so that we might be transformed by the love of Christ.
“What we can and must do is open ourselves to grace; that means to renounce our own will completely and to give it captive to the divine will, to lay our whole soul, ready for reception and formation, into God’s hands” (Principles of Women’s Education).
May we, in the spirit of Edith Stein, offer God our hearts each day so that he might make a home inside us and use us to do his holy will.
St. Teresa Benedicta’s love for Jesus ultimately led to her physical death, but she also lived her life as one of sacrifice and of praise each day.
By the testament of her life and her death, let us become more like her, and, in turn, more like Jesus.
St. Teresa, pray for us!