St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe (1894-1941) was born at Pabiance, in Russian Occupied Poland. He was baptized Raymond at the Parish Church. Already proficient in virtue, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him in 1906 A. D., about the time of his first communion.
She offered him the graces of virginity and martyrdom and asked him which he wanted. Filled with zeal, he begged for both, and was filled thereafter with the most ardent desire to love and serve this Immaculate Queen.
He joined the Order of Friars Minor Conventual at Lvov in Austrian Occupied Poland, where he took the name Maximilian, and after finishing preliminary studies he was sent to the International Seraphic College in Rome to pursue doctorates in philosophy and theology.
In 1917 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbon, renowned anti-Catholic and agnostic of Jewish lineage, St. Maximilian was moved by divine grace to found a pious association of the faithful known as the Militia of the Immaculate .
The Militia was to be a loosely organized tool in the hands of the Immaculate Mediatrix for the conversion and sanctification of non-Catholics, especially those inimical to the Church. Its members consecrated themselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary, invoked Her daily for the conversion of sinners, and strove by every licit means to build up the Kingdom of the Sacred Heart throughout the world.
Ordained to the priesthood in 1918, St. Maximilian returned to Poland to teach Church History in Cracow, where he organized the first group of the Militia outside of Italy. Because of ill health he was freed to devote his time exclusively to the promotion of the Militia, whereupon he founded the "Knight of the Immaculate," a monthly Roman Catholic Magazine promoting the knowledge, love and service of the Immaculate Virgin, in the conversion of all souls to Christ Our Lord.
The phenomenal growth of this apostolate led to the foundation of the first city of the Immaculate, Niepokalanow in 1929. This was a friary of Franciscan priests and brothers engaged in the use of all kinds of modern equipment so as to promote via the mass media the Militia through all parts of Poland.
Two years later St. Maximilian, heeding the call of the Holy Father to all religious, to come to the aid of the missionary efforts of the universal Church, volunteered to go to the Orient to found another city of the Immaculate, Mugenzai No Sono .
St. Maximilian returned to Niepokalanow, as it spiritual father, in 1936 and under his able direction the number of the friars there grew above 900 in the months preceding World War II. Publishing apostolate was producing 1,000,000 magazines monthly as well all 125,000 copies of a daily paper for the 1,000,000 members of the Militia worldwide.
After the invasion of Poland by the German Wermacht in September of 1939, the friars dispersed and Niepokalanow was ransacked. St. Maximilian and about 40 others were taken to holding camps, first in Germany, and later in Poland. By the mercy of the Immaculate they were released and allow to return home on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the same year.
During the war the friars turned to caring for about 5,000 Jewish refugees of the Poznan district as well as providing a repair shop for the farming machinery of the locale.
To incriminate St. Maximilian, the Gestapo permitted one final printing of the "Knight of the Immaculte" in December of 1940. In February of 1941, they came to Niepokalanow and arrested St. Maximlian. He was taken to Pawiak Prision in German Occupied Warsaw, Poland, and later was transferred to Auschwitz.
Over the entrance gate of this concentration camp was a sign in German, "Work makes free!". In reality, upon entering the prisoners were told that all Jews had the right to live only two weeks, Roman Catholic priests 1 month.
At Auschwitz several million Roman Catholics were put to death along with another several million persons of Jewish lineage. The objective of Hitler, in his hatred for Jesus Christ, was both to remove all witness to the truth of the original revelation of the God of Israel (the Jewish nation), as well as all who came to believe in Him in His Incarnation by Mary (Roman Catholics).
Thus, St. Maximilian, Knight of the Immaculate Virgin, was placed by Divine Providence at the very center of the ideologic and spiritual conflict of the century, and was destined by God to be the sign of contradiction to a nation given over to diabolic hatred of God and His people.
St. Maximilian, in response to the vicious hatred and brutality of the prison guards, was ever obedient, meek, and forgiving. He gave counsel to all his fellow prisoners "Trust in the Immaculate!" "Forgive!" "Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors!" He was noted for his generosity in surrendering his food despite the ravages of starvation that he suffered, for always going to the end of the line of the infirmary, despite the acute tuberculosis afflicting him.
In the end, by the maternal mediation of the Virgin Mary, he received the grace to be intimately conformed to Christ in death. For on the night of August 3, 1941 a prisoner successfully escaped from the same section of the came in which St. Maximilian was detained. In reprisal, the commandant ordered death by starvation for 10 men chosen at random from the same section.
One of the condemned, Seargent Franciszek Gajowniczek, shouted out, lamenting that he would never see his wife and children again. In his stead, St. Maximilian Mary, who had remained standing all night long during the selection of the condemned, stepped forward and offered his own life in exchange for this man. Ten days later, having led the other 9 in prayers and hymns, St. Maximilian was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid, and passed into eternal glory.
Pope Paul VI beatified St. Maximilian in 1973 and Pope John Paul II canonized him in 1982 as a martyr of charity.
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe's life and work continues today in the religious institutes of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, at the Academy of the Immaculate, and in the movement known as the Mission of the Immaculate Mediatrix.
As a presbyter in Rome, Hippolytus (the name means “a horse turned loose”) was at first “holier than the Church.” He censured the pope for not coming down hard enough on a certain heresy—calling him a tool in the hands of one Callistus, a deacon—and coming close to advocating the opposite heresy himself. When Callistus was elected pope, Hippolytus accused him of being too lenient with penitents, and had himself elected antipope by a group of followers. He felt that the Church must be composed of pure souls uncompromisingly separated from the world, and evidently thought that his group fitted the description. He remained in schism through the reigns of three popes. In 235 he was also banished to the island of Sardinia. Shortly before or after this event, he was reconciled to the Church, and died with Pope Pontian in exile.
Saint Hippolytus was a priest in the Church of Rome in the late second and early third centuries. Known for his extensive and profound teaching, he is undoubtedly the most important Roman theologian of the third century, in a time when the liturgy and all teaching of the Church in Rome was done in Greek. When Callistus, whom he considered to be a liberal, was elected to the Papacy, St. Hippolytus contested the election, apparently setting himself up as an anti-pope. His separation from full communion with the Church lasted for several years. Yet ultimately he and Pope Callistus' lawful successor, Pontianus, found themselves suffering side by side during a wave of persecution. They reconciled and died together for their faith in the mines of Sardinia in 235 AD.
St. Hippolytus' great work "The Apostolic Tradition" was only rediscovered in the 20th century, providing an elightening and extensive glimpse into the liturgical and devotional life of Roman Christians around the year 200 AD.
Easter Prayer of St. Hippolytus
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers, Glory and power are his forever and ever
The life of the future saint Louis of Toulouse (1274- August 19, 1297) is a good example of how family expectations mingled with royal power politics in the service of religion. Louis was the second son of Angevin Charles II "the Lame" of Naples. As a child, he served with two of his brothers as a hostage for his father, who had been defeated in a naval battle with the Sicilians and Aragonians. For these seven years (1288-1295) he was educated by Franciscan friars, among them Peter Olivi, and impressed them with his holiness and learning. During an illness, he made a vow to become a Friar Minor. Even when he was still in captivity (1294), he was named Archbishop of Lyons. When his older brother died in 1295, Louis also became heir to his father's secular titles.
When Louis was released in 1295, at age twenty-one, he went to Naples where he renounced his rights of succession to his brother Robert. He then fairly quickly ascended through the priestly orders, becoming Bishop of Toulouse in 1296. Although Louis was a pious person-attested by his teachers who were renowned spiritual leaders-he was an untried administrator, whose appointment was suggested by his superb connections. He finally got to Toulouse in February of 1297, where his mildness and care for the poor were admired. However, he fell sick and died after only a few short months in office.
On what basis was Louis made a saint? The scenes depicted on the predella emphasize the Franciscan virtue of humility above all else. But whatever his virtues, it was undoubtedly his connection to the royal house of Naples, among other saintly relations (nephew to Louis IX of France, and descendent of saint Elizabeth of Hungary.) His case was promoted by Pope Clement V in 1307, and he was canonized by John XXII on April 7, 1317.
As a saint, Louis of Toulouse was not widely venerated, although his day was kept by the Franciscan order, and he became the patron saint of Valencia, where his relics were taken in 1423. He was also held in great honor in Naples by his brother Robert, who commissioned an extraordinarly sumptuous and beautiful altar to him from Simone Martini not long after the canonization.
In this altar, Louis of Toulouse gazes directly at us from his throne, dressed in episcopal garments whose looseness hints that he barely had time to grow into them. Although he sits against a glowing gold background highly reminiscent of Byzantine icons, the throne is positioned firmly on an inlaid floor, suggesting three-dimensional space in the progressive manner of International Gothic style. Robert of Anjou kneels to his left, and receives a crown from his brother's hand. Robert receives earthly glory, as Louis' abdication left him with a clear claim to the Kingdom of Naples. Presumably Robert is also the recipient of heavenly favors, as well, for his brother will surely intercede in heaven for this anointed king, and all of the Angevin dynasty. The panel emphasizes heraldic imagery, notably the French fleurs-de-lis in the frame.
The French ruling house was particularly honored in the Church. The canonization of Louis IX of France had only occurred ten years before, in 1297. The French nobility's intimate access to divinity is evident in a grouping of saints in the Francisan Church at Assisi. Around 1317, Simoni Martini decorated a chapel in honor of French patron Saint Martin. Here also St. Louis of Toulouse is pictured, in the company of other members of his order and family (St Louis and St Elizabeth).
When Francis of Assisi was preaching at St. George Church, a young lady from a noble family was listening to him with her mother and sister. Claire listened to those words and understood that St. Francis should be the guide of her soul. She confided this desire to her aunt, who went with her to St. Mary of the Angels to speak with St. Francis. Who can say what happened in the soul of the Seraphic Father during that first interview with the woman who would be his assistant in the task Heaven had designed for him to accomplish?
Francis revealed to Clare the beauties of the Celestial Spouse and the excellence of virginity. Then he described to her what he cherished the most in his heart: the power and the charm of poverty and the need for penance. Clare listened, astounded and enthused, and the divine appeal touched her heart. In a short time her decision was made. She would break all the bounds that linked her to earth and consecrate herself to God.
On the evening of Palm Sunday, March 17, 1212, she secretly left her father’s house and with some companions headed toward St. Mary of the Angels, the Church of the Portiuncula. St. Francis and his brothers met them along their way with torches and led them into the church. On that night the spiritual marriage of St. Clare took place. Francis asked her what she wanted, and she answered: “I want the God of the Manger and of Calvary. I desire no other treasure or inheritance.”
While Francis was cutting her hair, she delivered over all her precious jewelry and ornaments, and received the rude habit, cord, and humble veil and consecrated herself entirely to God.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
One can admire the beauty of the scene. In the small medieval town of Assisi, a cortege of young ladies flees the home of their families, who want to impede their sacrifice. Silently and cautiously they walk through the winding streets of Assisi so as not to raise any attention. They leave the town and in the fields that separate Assisi from the Monastery of St. Mary of the Angels they meet another cortege. This second cortege is even more heavenly than the first. It is St. Francis of Assisi, who was another Christ on earth, who was even similar physically to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Carrying torches, St. Francis and some of those saints who helped him found the Franciscan Order walk to receive those virgins. The corteges unite and enter together into the Church of Our Lady. The group gathers inside it in a circle. St. Claire renounces everything.
Then St. Francis cuts her hair as she takes the definitive step from which the Order of Poor Clares would be born. Upon that step depended the entire Second Order of Franciscans, which gave so many saints for the Catholic Church and glory to God through the centuries.
St. Claire left everything to enter a convent at a time when, in many respects, the Church was in her apogee. Today, we are witnessing the House of God cracked, the dignity of the ministers of God dragged into the mud, the veil of religious women gone, religious life disintegrated. Does this tragic spectacle leave us indifferent? Are we more concerned about our job, making money, buying a new car and new clothes, or acquiring more comforts for our home? If so, where is our faith? What do we believe in? What do we take seriously?
Only when a Catholic completely lacks seriousness can he place his personal life on the same level with the extreme sorrow this religious situation represents to the Catholic Church. Actually, it represents another Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today the Church is crucified. She does not die because she cannot die; otherwise she would have already expired.
So, on this day of St. Clare, let us imitate her dedication and confirm our commitment to offer our lives to fight against Progressivism in the Church, which is the worst enemy she has ever had throughout time. Never has a cause had so few persons to fight for it. This is enough to characterize it as the most glorious fight in History.
Speaking about those pilots who fought the Battle of London and saved the city from the Nazi bombardments, Churchill said: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” On the Final Judgment, Our Lady will certainly say something similar about those who fight for her now.
Let us ask Our Lady and St. Clare to imbue our souls with this spirit of dedication to the cause of Holy Mother Church.
St. Laurence was chief of the seven Roman deacons of Pope Sixtus II. In 258 Emperor Valerian increased his persecutions of the Christians. One day when Pope Sixtus II was in the cemetery of St. Calistus celebrating the Holy Mysteries accompanied by some members of his clergy, he was arrested.
As the soldiers took the Pontiff to be put to death, Laurence followed him in anguish saying: “Where are you going, my father, without your son? Where are you going, Holy Pontiff, without your deacon? Isn’t it the custom to offer the sacrifice with an assistant? Let me prove I am worthy of the choice you made when you entrusted me with the distribution of the Blood of Our Lord.”
Sixtus replied: “I am not leaving you, my son. They are lenient on old men, not the youth. A greater combat is reserved for you. You will follow me in three days.”
Thinking that the Christians had hidden great treasures, the prefect of Rome called for Laurence, who as first deacon was the custodian of the Church’s goods. The prefect ordered Laurence to hand over all the Church’s treasures. Laurence answered that he would do so but first he needed to assemble them. So he went out and gathered all the poor and sick people of Rome, then returned and showed them to the prefect, telling him that these were the sole and greatest treasure of the Church. The poor people were the gold, the virgins and widows were the pearls and other precious stones. Furious, the prefect condemned Laurence to die a slow and cruel death.
The saint was undressed and laid on a grill with burning coals beneath it. Witnesses of the scene saw a radiant joy on the martyr’s face. After a certain time had passed, he addressed his torturers saying: “Turn me around, because this side is already well cooked.” They turned him, and after a time he said: “It is done and ready to eat.” Then turning his eyes to Heaven he prayed to God for the conversion of Rome and expired. His body was carried away by converted Roman Senators who buried him in a grotto in the Verano field, near Tivoli.
Comments of Prof. Plinio:
There are numerous precious data in this selection.
The first is the dialogue between St. Laurence and St. Sixtus. You know that the holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the bloodless reenacting of the holy sacrifice of the Cross. Now, when a martyr offers his holocaust he imitates Our Lord Jesus Christ who immolated Himself. It is not the reenactment of the sacrifice of the Mass, but it is analogous to it.
Therefore, one finds two correlations with the Sacrifice of Calvary in the admirable dialogue between St. Sixtus and his Deacon. St. Laurence said to the Pontiff: “Often have you offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with me as assistant. Now at the moment you go to offer you life, would you have no more need of my assistance? Are you putting me aside at this moment? Don’t you want my help? Let me go with you to be killed with you. Since I have served you at the foot of the altar during my life, let me serve you now at the feet of death.”
After hearing this marvelous proposal, St. Sixtus prophesized: “I will have an easy death compared to yours. You, young man, will be spared much less than the old man I am. In three days you also will be killed.”
Second, the fidelity of St. Laurence to St. Sixtus shows us a first spark of the Middle Ages. Theirs was a relationship that was primordially ecclesiastic, but it was already a feudal fidelity. This union between lord and vassel in which the person who serves unites himself to the one he serves is much more than a work contract; it is a link of veneration and dedication, it is to offer one’s life. The person who serves realizes that he loses his reason to exist without his superior. In this splendid bond of fidelity of St. Laurence to St. Sixtus, we see a beginning of feudalism. In his turn, the superior esteems and protects the inferior. This kind of relationship represented one of the glories of the Middle Ages. Its remnants survived in Christendom even after the French Revolution. In its depth, what the Progressivist Church does is struggle to extinguish the last vestiges of this.
Third, another admirable point to consider is the episode with the prefect. St. Laurence brought him all the treasures of the Church: the poor people. You have to consider that for the pagan mentality, the poor were despicable. The Roman of that time had an extreme repulsion for the poor. But St. Laurence presented the poor to the prefect as the Church’s treasure. He gave the prefect an extraordinary lesson of the supernatural spirit.
Why is the poor a treasure?
There are some titles that make any baptized Catholic a treasure: he is a man who is a son of the Catholic Church; he was saved by the infinitely precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ; he was worthy of the supremely valuable tears of Our Lady in the Passion.
But, there are other titles that specifically apply to the condition of one who is poor. God loves those who suffer deprivation with resignation and in union with Him. When poverty is involuntary, it should be loved by both the one who is poor and by the one who is not. The latter should help the former to leave the state of poverty, but both should realize that there is a real merit in accepting such poverty with resignation. The same applies to sickness. The Church does more than anyone to alleviate illnesses, but she also loves the sick and praises the afflicted man when he bears the suffering with resignation to the will of God. Therefore, one can say that the poor, like the widow and orphan, is a treasure. They are truly treasures within the Holy Church. St. Laurence gave an admirable lesson of the supernatural spirit to the prefect of Rome.
Fourth, the last lesson St. Laurence gave us was his martyrdom. Without a miracle – and a first class miracle – one cannot understand how a man suffered what he did. He was slowly roasted on a grill with live coals beneath it. You can imagine how painful this would be. Consider how a live animal put to such torment would react: it would roar and jump trying to escape the pain. In a man this torture would raise even stronger reactions, because the animal doesn’t have intelligence and can’t understand what is happening. Understanding makes the suffering still greater.
St. Laurence, however, was extremely tranquil before such suffering, with his face radiating joy. When he realized that a part of his body was dead, he asked to be turned over to the other side. He was turned, and then he died. You can see that there were successive miracles that permitted him to remain calm and joyful, and then to live longer even after he was entirely roasted on one side. When his hour finally came, he asked for the conversion of Rome. And God heard his prayer at that very moment he expired. For several Roman Senators who were assisting at his martyrdom converted and carried his body to the grave. That is, he, a simple deacon, poor himself and living in the catacombs, had his body carried by members of the highest legislative and political organ on earth at that time, the Roman Senate.
In the Magnificat Our Lady entoned this rule: Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles – God puts down the mighty from their seats and exalts the humble. Today no one knows the name of the prefect of Rome, almost no one knows anything about the Emperor Valerian. Regarding the latter, people either forgot him or consider him with horror. On the contrary, a great many people know about the humble St. Laurence and love him. One of the most famous palaces of the world, the Escorial, was built in Spain by the great King Philip II in honor of St. Laurence.
Philip II had a difficult time fighting the French Protestants. On the feast day of St. Laurence in the place called St. Quentin he engaged in a hard and decisive battle against the Protestants. He made God a promise to build a magnificent basilica in honor of St. Laurence if he won the battle. He crushed the heretics, and to commemorate the occasion he erected the greatest work of art of his reign, the Escorial. This palace was built in the shape of a grill to celebrate the martyrdom of St. Laurence. In this way Philip II perpetuated the glory of St. Laurence. This is just one example. The Catholic Church has honored him in many other ways, celebrating his virtues and venerating him.
You have, then, a realization of what Our Lady entoned: the powerful were put down and erased from the memory of the people and the humble were glorified.
Let us ask St. Laurence to give us that same supernatural spirit he displayed before the prefect, and his panache in face of his sufferings and death.
"We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein, an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting ... and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God." These were the words of Pope John Paul II when he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne on 1 May 1987.
Who was this woman?
Edith Stein was born in Breslau on 12 October 1891, the youngest of 11, as her family were celebrating Yom Kippur, that most important Jewish festival, the Feast of Atonement. "More than anything else, this helped make the youngest child very precious to her mother." Being born on this day was like a foreshadowing to Edith, a future Carmelite nun.
Edith's father, who ran a timber business, died when she had only just turned two. Her mother, a very devout, hard-working, strong-willed and truly wonderful woman, now had to fend for herself and to look after the family and their large business. However, she did not succeed in keeping up a living faith in her children. Edith lost her faith in God. "I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying," she said.
In 1911 she passed her school-leaving exam with flying colours and enrolled at the University of Breslau to study German and history, though this was a mere "bread-and-butter" choice. Her real interest was in philosophy and in women's issues. She became a member of the Prussian Society for Women's Franchise. "When I was at school and during my first years at university," she wrote later, "I was a radical suffragette. Then I lost interest in the whole issue. Now I am looking for purely pragmatic solutions."
In 1913, Edith Stein transferred to G6ttingen University, to study under the mentorship of Edmund Husserl. She became his pupil and teaching assistant, and he later tutored her for a doctorate. At the time, anyone who was interested in philosophy was fascinated by Husserl's new view of reality, whereby the world as we perceive it does not merely exist in a Kantian way, in our subjective perception. His pupils saw his philosophy as a return to objects: "back to things". Husserl's phenomenology unwittingly led many of his pupils to the Christian faith. In G6ttingen Edith Stein also met the philosopher Max Scheler, who directed her attention to Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, she did not neglect her "bread-and-butter" studies and passed her degree with distinction in January 1915, though she did not follow it up with teacher training.
"I no longer have a life of my own," she wrote at the beginning of the First World War, having done a nursing course and gone to serve in an Austrian field hospital. This was a hard time for her, during which she looked after the sick in the typhus ward, worked in an operating theatre, and saw young people die. When the hospital was dissolved, in 1916, she followed Husserl as his assistant to the German city of Freiburg, where she passed her doctorate summa cum laude (with the utmost distinction) in 1917, after writing a thesis on "The Problem of Empathy."
During this period she went to Frankfurt Cathedral and saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer. "This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot. "Towards the end of her dissertation she wrote: "There have been people who believed that a sudden change had occurred within them and that this was a result of God's grace." How could she come to such a conclusion? Edith Stein had been good friends with Husserl's Göttingen assistant, Adolf Reinach, and his wife.
When Reinach fell in Flanders in November 1917, Edith went to Göttingen to visit his widow. The Reinachs had converted to Protestantism. Edith felt uneasy about meeting the young widow at first, but was surprised when she actually met with a woman of faith. "This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it ... it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me - Christ in the mystery of the Cross."
Later, she wrote: "Things were in God's plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that - from God's point of view - there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God's divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God's all-seeing eyes."
In Autumn 1918 Edith Stein gave up her job as Husserl's teaching assistant. She wanted to work independently. It was not until 1930 that she saw Husserl again after her conversion, and she shared with him about her faith, as she would have liked him to become a Christian, too. Then she wrote down the amazing words: "Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust."
Edith Stein wanted to obtain a professorship, a goal that was impossible for a woman at the time. Husserl wrote the following reference: "Should academic careers be opened up to ladies, then I can recommend her whole-heartedly and as my first choice for admission to a professorship." Later, she was refused a professorship on account of her Jewishness.
Back in Breslau, Edith Stein began to write articles about the philosophical foundation of psychology. However, she also read the New Testament, Kierkegaard and Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. She felt that one could not just read a book like that, but had to put it into practice.
In the summer of 1921. she spent several weeks in Bergzabern (in the Palatinate) on the country estate of Hedwig Conrad-Martius, another pupil of Husserl's. Hedwig had converted to Protestantism with her husband. One evening Edith picked up an autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and read this book all night. "When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth." Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: "My longing for truth was a single prayer."
On 1 January 1922 Edith Stein was baptized. It was the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, when Jesus entered into the covenant of Abraham. Edith Stein stood by the baptismal font, wearing Hedwig Conrad-Martius' white wedding cloak. Hedwig washer godmother. "I had given up practising 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." From this moment on she was continually aware that she belonged to Christ not only spiritually, but also through her blood. At the Feast of the Purification of Mary - another day with an Old Testament reference - she was confirmed by the Bishop of Speyer in his private chapel.
After her conversion she went straight to Breslau: "Mother," she said, "I am a Catholic." The two women cried. Hedwig Conrad Martius wrote: "Behold, two Israelites indeed, in whom is no deceit!" (cf. John 1:47).
Immediately after her conversion she wanted to join a Carmelite convent. However, her spiritual mentors, Vicar-General Schwind of Speyer, and Erich Przywara SJ, stopped her from doing so. Until Easter 1931 she held a position teaching German and history at the Dominican Sisters' school and teacher training college of St. Magdalen's Convent in Speyer. At the same time she was encouraged by Arch-Abbot Raphael Walzer of Beuron Abbey to accept extensive speaking engagements, mainly on women's issues. "During the time immediately before and quite some time after my conversion I ... thought that leading a religious life meant giving up all earthly things and having one's mind fixed on divine things only. Gradually, however, I learnt that other things are expected of us in this world... I even believe that the deeper someone is drawn to God, the more he has to `get beyond himself' in this sense, that is, go into the world and carry divine life into it."
She worked enormously hard, translating the letters and diaries of Cardinal Newman from his pre-Catholic period as well as Thomas Aquinas' Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate. The latter was a very free translation, for the sake of dialogue with modern philosophy. Erich Przywara also encouraged her to write her own philosophical works. She learnt that it was possible to "pursue scholarship as a service to God... It was not until I had understood this that I seriously began to approach academic work again." To gain strength for her life and work, she frequently went to the Benedictine Monastery of Beuron, to celebrate the great festivals of the Church year.
In 1931 Edith Stein left the convent school in Speyer and devoted herself to working for a professorship again, this time in Breslau and Freiburg, though her endeavours were in vain. It was then that she wrote Potency and Act, a study of the central concepts developed by Thomas Aquinas. Later, at the Carmelite Convent in Cologne, she rewrote this study to produce her main philosophical and theological oeuvre, Finite and Eternal Being. By then, however, it was no longer possible to print the book.
In 1932 she accepted a lectureship position at the Roman Catholic division of the German Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster, where she developed her anthropology. She successfully combined scholarship and faith in her work and her teaching, seeking to be a "tool of the Lord" in everything she taught. "If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him."
In 1933 darkness broke out over Germany. "I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that God had laid his hand heavily on His people, and that the destiny of these people would also be mine." The Aryan Law of the Nazis made it impossible for Edith Stein to continue teaching. "If I can't go on here, then there are no longer any opportunities for me in Germany," she wrote; "I had become a stranger in the world."
The Arch-Abbot of Beuron, Walzer, now no longer stopped her from entering a Carmelite convent. While in Speyer, she had already taken a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 1933 she met with the prioress of the Carmelite Convent in Cologne. "Human activities cannot help us, but only the suffering of Christ. It is my desire to share in it."
Edith Stein went to Breslau for the last time, to say good-bye to her mother and her family. Her last day at home was her birthday, 12 October, which was also the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Edith went to the synagogue with her mother. It was a hard day for the two women. "Why did you get to know it [Christianity]?" her mother asked, "I don't want to say anything against him. He may have been a very good person. But why did he make himself God?" Edith's mother cried. The following day Edith was on the train to Cologne. "I did not feel any passionate joy. What I had just experienced was too terrible. But I felt a profound peace - in the safe haven of God's will." From now on she wrote to her mother every week, though she never received any replies. Instead, her sister Rosa sent her news from Breslau.
Edith joined the Carmelite Convent of Cologne on 14 October, and her investiture took place on 15 April, 1934. The mass was celebrated by the Arch-Abbot of Beuron. Edith Stein was now known as Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce - Teresa, Blessed of the Cross. In 1938 she wrote: "I understood the cross as the destiny of God's people, which was beginning to be apparent at the time (1933). I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody's behalf. Of course, I know better now what it means to be wedded to the Lord in the sign of the cross. However, one can never comprehend it, because it is a mystery." On 21 April 1935 she took her temporary vows. On 14 September 1936, the renewal of her vows coincided with her mother's death in Breslau. "My mother held on to her faith to the last moment. But as her faith and her firm trust in her God ... were the last thing that was still alive in the throes of her death, I am confident that she will have met a very merciful judge and that she is now my most faithful helper, so that I can reach the goal as well."
When she made her eternal profession on 21 April 1938, she had the words of St. John of the Cross printed on her devotional picture: "Henceforth my only vocation is to love." Her final work was to be devoted to this author.
Edith Stein's entry into the Carmelite Order was not escapism. "Those who join the Carmelite Order are not lost to their near and dear ones, but have been won for them, because it is our vocation to intercede to God for everyone." In particular, she interceded to God for her people: "I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken away from her people precisely because God wanted her to plead with the king on behalf of her nation. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who has chosen me is infinitely great and merciful. This is great comfort." (31 October 1938)
On 9 November 1938 the anti-Semitism of the Nazis became apparent to the whole world.
Synagogues were burnt, and the Jewish people were subjected to terror. The prioress of the Carmelite Convent in Cologne did her utmost to take Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce abroad. On New Year's Eve 1938 she was smuggled across the border into the Netherlands, to the Carmelite Convent in Echt in the Province of Limburg. This is where she wrote her will on 9 June 1939: "Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death ... so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world."
While in the Cologne convent, Edith Stein had been given permission to start her academic studies again. Among other things, she wrote about "The Life of a Jewish Family" (that is, her own family): "I simply want to report what I experienced as part of Jewish humanity," she said, pointing out that "we who grew up in Judaism have a duty to bear witness ... to the young generation who are brought up in racial hatred from early childhood."
In Echt, Edith Stein hurriedly completed her study of "The Church's Teacher of Mysticism and the Father of the Carmelites, John of the Cross, on the Occasion of the 400th Anniversary of His Birth, 1542-1942." In 1941 she wrote to a friend, who was also a member of her order: "One can only gain a scientia crucis (knowledge of the cross) if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: 'Ave, Crux, Spes unica' (I welcome you, Cross, our only hope)." Her study on St. John of the Cross is entitled: "Kreuzeswissenschaft" (The Science of the Cross).
Edith Stein was arrested by the Gestapo on 2 August 1942, while she was in the chapel with the other sisters. She was to report within five minutes, together with her sister Rosa, who had also converted and was serving at the Echt Convent. Her last words to be heard in Echt were addressed to Rosa: "Come, we are going for our people."
Together with many other Jewish Christians, the two women were taken to a transit camp in Amersfoort and then to Westerbork. This was an act of retaliation against the letter of protest written by the Dutch Roman Catholic Bishops against the pogroms and deportations of Jews. Edith commented, "I never knew that people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this. ... I pray for them every hour. Will God hear my prayers? He will certainly hear them in their distress." Prof. Jan Nota, who was greatly attached to her, wrote later: "She is a witness to God's presence in a world where God is absent."
On 7 August, early in the morning, 987 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. It was probably on 9 August that Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, her sister and many other of her people were gassed. When Edith Stein was beatified in Cologne on 1 May 1987, the Church honoured "a daughter of Israel", as Pope John Paul II put it, who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness."