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Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

“For by doing what God demands of us with total surrender of our innermost being, we cause the divine life to become our own inner life. Entering into ourselves, we find God in our own selves.”

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Saint Teresa was born as Edith Stein on October 12th, 1891 in Brelau (now Wroclaw) Poland. Her birthday was on Yom Kippur which, along with being the youngest of the eleven children, made her a favorite of her mother. As a young child she was very gifted and took quickly to her education, excelling at most subjects. She was also brought up in a very devout Jewish household with a mother that kept a very religious life but constantly pushed her children to think critically of the world. Saint Teresa's father died early in life but her mother refused to allow this early death to stand in the way of her children's education and so sent Saint Teresa to study at the Schlesissche Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitat.

“I had given up practicing my Jewish religion when I was a 14-year-old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God.” - Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

By her teenage years Saint Teresa found herself agnostic and threw herself at her studies. In April of 1913 she studied for the summer semester at the University of Gottingen under Edmund Husseri and at the end of the semester she decided to pursue her doctoral degree in philosophy with empathy as her thesis topic. The outbreak of World War I, however, forced her to place these studies and plans on hold. Saint Teresa spent almost two years serving during the war as a volunteer Red Cross nurse in an infections disease hospital at Mahrisch Weibkirchen.

As the war came to a close, Saint Teresa returned to her studies at the University of Freiburg and received her degree. Her dissertation entitled Das Einfuhlungsproblem in seiner historischen Entwicklung und in phanmenologischer Betrachtung (The Empathy problem as it developed historically and considered Phenomenologically) was awarded a doctorate in philosophy with summa cum laude. During a summer holiday in Bad Bergzabern in 1921, Saint Teresa was introduced to the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila and the reading of this autobiography completely changed the trajectory of her life. It immediately set off a conversion to Catholicism which led to her baptism on January 1st, 1922. After becoming baptized she asked her spiritual advisors to allow her to join the Carmelite order but was dissuaded from joining so fast.

in 1923 Saint Teresa secured a position to teach at the Dominican's school in Speyer and while there she translated De Veritate (Thomas Aquinas) into German and tried to bridge the philosophy of Husserl to Thomism. She frequently visited her former teachers in Freiburg and in 1932 she became a lecturer at the Catholic Institute for Scientific Pedagogy at Munster. She was forced to resign from this post only a year later, however, as new decrees from the Nazi party that targeted those from Jewish ancestory began to take affect. She wrote a letter to Pop Pius XI begging to the Pope to denounce the Nazi regime but it is unlikely that Pope Pius XI received or saw the letter. Part of it was recorded as:

As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. … But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings. Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself 'Christian'. For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ's name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn't the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors? And isn't this a black mark on the record of this Holy Year which was intended to be a year of peace and reconciliation? We all, who are faithful children of the Church and who see the conditions in Germany with open eyes, fear the worst for the prestige of the Church, if the silence continues any longer.

In October of 1933, Saint Teresa entered into the Discalced Carmelite monastery of Our Lady of Peace in Cologne-Lindethal. She took the religious name Teresia Benedicta a Cruce and wrote her book Endliches und ewigs Sein (Finite and Eternal Being) which combined the philosophies of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and Husserl. Her sister Rosa too had become a convert and sister and the Order transferred both to the monastery in Echt, Netherlands in attempt to help protect them from the growing Nazi party and hatred of the Jewish race. Here in the Netherlands Saint Teresa began to train herself for the sufferings of a concentration camp as she believed her internment and death in one would eventually come despite no Nazi invasion of the Netherlands yet. On June 9th, 1939 she wrote:

I beg the Lord to take my life and my death … for all concerns of the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary and the holy church, especially for the preservation of our holy order, in particular the Carmelite monasteries of Cologne and Echt, as atonement for the unbelief of the Jewish People, and that the Lord will be received by his own people and his kingdom shall come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world, at last for my loved ones, living or dead, and for all God gave to me: that none of them shall go astray.

The Nazi party invaded the Netherlands in May of 1940. On July 20th, 1942, the Dutch Bishops Conference issued a public statement that was read in all Catholic churches of the nation condemning with no uncertainty Nazi racism. In retaliation, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts who had been spared arrest up to this point on July 26th. Saint Teresa and her sister Rosa were arrested by the SS on August 2nd, 1942 alongside two hundred and forty-two other baptized Jews. Both sisters were first imprisoned at Amersfoort and Westerbork concentration camps before being transferred to Auschwitz. As they began to board the trains for Auschwitz a Dutch official so moved by the faith and calmness of Saint Teresa offered her a path to escape the concentration camp, an offer she refused saying:

"If somebody intervened at this point and took away [her] chance to share in the fate of [her] brothers and sisters, that would be utter annihilation."

On August 9th, 1942, Saint Teresa and her sister were killed in a mass gas chamber at Auschwitz.

Saint Pope John Paul II beatified Saint Teresa as a martyr on May 1st, 1987 in Cologne Germany. The miracle for her canonization would occur on the same year.

In 1987, Benedicta McCarthy, then two and a half, was left at home in Brokton, Mass, with her 11 older siblings (the oldest was 20) while her parents left on a trip. Benedicta snuck away and came across a box of Tylenol packets, and believing them to be candy, began to ingest them. Soon afterwards the other siblings noticed Benedicta acting very strangely and immediately rushed her to the hospital. At the hospitals doctors told them the incredibly and unbelievably tragic news - Benedicta had swallowed enough Tylenol to equal sixteen lethal doses. She was in a coma, her liver and kidneys failing and her body suffering from staphylococcus infections.

The McCarty family immediately began telling everyone to start praying for the intercession of Saint Teresa for the young child. The family was extremely devout - Emmanuel McCarthy was a Melkite Church priest and the family had turned one of the rooms of their house into a chapel so that the entire family could say the rosary together each day. Word spread fast and soon people across the country were praying for her intercession - miraculously only a few days later Benedicta McCarthy walked out of the hospital fully recovered. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, the doctor who treated her would later say in an interview:

''I'm saying it was miraculous. I'm Jewish. I don't believe per se in miracles, but I can say I didn't expect her to recover.''

And at a tribunal also stated:

"I was willing to say that it was miraculous."

At the canonization in Rome on October 11th, Dr Kleeinmann attended along side Benedicta, both parents, all 11 siblings and three additional nurses who assisted at the hospital. During the homily, Saint Pope John Paul II said:

Today, as then, we bow to the memory of Edith Stein, proclaiming the indomitable witness she bore during her life and especially by her death. Now alongside Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux, another Teresa takes her place among the host of saints who do honor to the Carmelite Order.

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is now one of the six patron saints of Europe (Saint Benedict of Nursia, Saint Cyril, Saint Methodius, Saint Bridget of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena). Her feast day is celebrated on August 9th each year

“In order to be an image of God, the spirit must turn to what is eternal, hold it in spirit, keep it in memory, and by loving it, embrace it in the will.” - Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
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