Their letter had been read in every church in Holland. The Dutch bishops could no longer keep silent. They felt they had to speak out against the racist regime. Their flock needed to hear their voice even if it meant their imprisonment, for even Bishops had been interned in Dachau. They went forward, undeterred, boldly giving witness to the truth of the dignity of all people. The shepherds were prepared to suffer themselves for the tyranny must be stopped. They were unprepared for Hitler’s retaliation; he went straight for their heart by striking at the flock itself.
Sister Teresa had been sent in secret by her superiors to the Netherlands for they feared for her safety in Cologne. It was not long after her arrival that the Dutch were overtaken by the Nazi forces. Ethnic Jews, like Sr. Teresa Benedicta, were soon required to fill out extensive paperwork to register themselves with the new dictatorship, regardless of their religious affiliation. Teresa obliged the requirement to protect her Order.
“Hail Jesus Christ, King of the Universe!”
was the audtious salute that Teresa greeted the Nazi’s with as she entered their headquarters. It could be no other way for Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. God was the only One who merited such a provocative greeting.
In Her DNA
Teresa was born on the Jewish festival, Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement. She was given the name Edith Stein. Her father passed, leaving Edith’s mother to raise her and the ten siblings up, according to their Jewish faith. Like her mother, Edith was endowed with a will of steel and a pointed intelect. She also possesed a great desire for knowledge and truth, intertwined with her melancholy temperament.
Experience of the Divine
At fourteen, Edith found herself unsatisfied with the faith of her family. Having declared herself an atheist, she committed to the pursuit of learning, taking a particular interest in philosophy. It was during this pursuit of knowing that Edith came across Teresa of Avila’s autobiography. After reading about the nun’s experience with the divine, Edith came to know in her very being, that what the Spanish mystic wrote was true. Edith had been given the gift of faith.
With belief, Edith sought out instruction from a priest in the Catholic faith. This lead to her baptism. Rather than closing herself off after being born-again, she was intentional about maintaining her relationships. Edith was down to earth. Unfortunately, this would cause some to criticize her saying that it was difficult to see a difference from the saint and the sinners, at least when they shared company.
Ugh. Relatable…Haters gonna hate. Must be why our connection is so strong. Sorry, going on…
Being a pioneering women, she continued her studies in philosophy at the University. Edith was mentored by Edmund Husserl, and though, unable to acquire a professorship due to her jewishness rather than her gender, she would later go on to develop her own philosophy as a phenomenologist rooted in Thomistic thought.
Teresa never lost her ardor for the faith she was gifted. She developed her spiritual life with the help of spiritual mentors. At the age of forty she entered the Carmelites following after her spiritual mother, Teresa of Avila. It was her texts that opened Edith’s eyes to the divine thus making it fitting that she took the name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
And, like the great Teresa of Avila, Edith also soared in the realm of Christian mysticism. She had deep foreshadowing knowledge that she would be sacrificed as a burnt offering for her Jewish people; in union to Christ’s one atonement on the Cross. She even offered herself as a holocaust to Christ.
The roundup of Catholic Jews had begun in the Netherlands. Teresa and her companions’ would follow after their Saviour.
But He was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity, He bore the punishment that makes us whole, By His wounds we are healed.
The prophet Isaiah, Chapter 53
And like Esther, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, would stand before her King pleading for her people; offering herself.
When she and her companions entered the gas chamber on August 9, 1942, there was the One who burns as a Holy Flame dancing alight inside them. For like their ancestors the prophets, they did not enter the furnace alone but with God who delivered them into His Presence, joining the chosen generations who had come before.
And there she stands today, making intercession for her people, the Old and the New.
I made my way down the long dirt road that followed the fence of the concentration camp. I was told that the building, a former SS commander’s house, was now a church; though no one ever goes there, it should be open if I want to pray.
When I arrived a wedding was just concluding and so with trepidation I entered. A painting of the saint greeted me hanging just to the right of the Presence in the golden box. I knelt and cried. That was my prayer.
I entered the enclosement from the south.
As I walked, I remembered.
In my heart, peace reigned.