Fr. Roger J. Landry
Mass for Consecrated Women of Regnum Christi
Wakefield, Rhode Island
Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)
Dt 4:32-40, Ps 77, Mt 16:24-28
To listen to an audio of today’s homily please click below:
Yesterday, once Jesus was confessed as Messiah and Lord, he announced the type of Messiah he would be: a Messiah who out of love for us would be manhandled by the chief priests, scribes and elders and killed and on the third day raised. Peter at first couldn’t take it. Just moments after he had had his name changed from Simon to “Rock,” he had his name changed again to “Satan,” because he was trying to lead rather than follow Christ, because he was thinking not as God does but according to a narrow human logic that can’t truly understand the depth of love or the need to combine both justice and mercy in salvation. Today Jesus ups the ante. If we’re going to be his disciple, not only do we have to embrace his suffering, but our own. Today in the Gospel he gives us more than an idea, more than a good suggestion. He gives us a clear condition. If we wish to be his disciple, we, like him, must deny ourselves, pick up our Cross and follow him. We must lose our life for him and for others in order to save it.
In this Year of Faith, the ultimate goal is to learn to live truly by faith. And St. Paul teaches us clearly that to do that, we must be crucified. He wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live by Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” The only way to live by faith is to crucify our relationship with the things of the world, so that they are no longer idols. That’s why St. Paul would eventually say that he boasted of nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world was crucified to him and him to the world. He would encourage the early Christians to learn how to become friends of the Cross of Christ, because the vast majority lived as enemies of the Cross, making their bellies their god and glorying in sins that should bring them shame.
Today we celebrate a great saint whose whole life is a commentary on the fruitfulness of the Cross. I was privileged to be present at her canonization on October 11, 1998, and I remember how Blessed John Paul II began his homily, saying that St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross “is an eloquent example of [the] extraordinary interior renewal” that happens when the “message of the Cross” enters the heart of men and woman.
Born Edith Stein on the Day of Atonement in 1891, she was raised in orthodox Jewish home in Breslau, Germany, as the youngest of eleven children. Despite her soon-widowed mother’s attempts to give Edith a good religious formation, at the age of 14 Edith decided that she did not believe in God and made a deliberate decision to stop praying.
For 16 years, study became her pseudo-religion. She was brilliant and easily obtained university degrees in history and German, while spending most of her free time learning philosophy at the feet of the famous phenomenologist Edmund Husserl. Under his tutelage she eventually wrote her doctorate summa cum laude and embarked on a university teaching career.
Her conversion happened in stages. The first step was when she saw an ordinary Catholic woman with a shopping basket enter Frankfurt’s cathedral, kneel down and pray. “This was something totally new to me,” she wrote in her unfinished autobiography. “In the synagogues and in 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.” God was becoming real and present again, someone who wanted to accompany us each day.
The second step occurred when she went to console the widow of a fellow philosopher and encountered the fruit that comes from the cross. Edith was dreading what to say to the widow, but she was overwhelmed by the widow’s peace flowing from her Christian faith in the power of the Cross and Resurrection. “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it,” she remarked. “It was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me — Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”
The final stage happened four years later when Edith was 29. While vacationing at the home of a fellow professor and his wife, one night she pulled a copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s Life from their bookshelves. She could not put it down the rest of the night. When she had finished the great Spanish mystic’s autobiography, she said simply, “This is the truth.” She never said what was it in the writings of St. Teresa that had moved her — she always said it was her secret — but I like to think that reading St. Teresa’s interior journey and the fruit that comes from the suffering of the dark night as one advances more deeply into the interior castle captivated her. She went to the local Catholic parish the next day and asked the priest to be baptized.
For years she had been searching for the truth. She discovered that the truth had a name — and from that moment on, she dedicated herself to Truth Incarnate.
After twelve years of teaching, writing, and lecturing on women’s issues, she entered the Discalced Carmelite Monastery in Cologne. There she became a bride of Christ and, since she knew with clarity that her one-flesh union with Divine Bridegroom would lead her to the Cross, asked for and received the name of “Teresa Blessed of the Cross.” She saw her blessing in her vocation “to be wedded to the Lord in the sign of the Cross.”
As the Nazi menace grew, she was transferred by her superiors to a Carmelite monastery in the Netherlands. “I understood the cross as the destiny of God’s people,” she wrote. “I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody’s behalf.”
As her understanding grew — shown in her most famous theological work, “The Science of the Cross” — so did her willingness to take it upon herself for her Jewish people. “Ave, Crux, Spes Unica,” she repeated: “I welcome you, O Cross, our only hope.”
Her welcome and knowledge of the Cross would soon become a Biblical embrace of her crucified Spouse. After the Dutch bishops publicly condemned Nazism, the Gestapo retaliated by deporting all Jewish converts in the Netherlands to the concentration camps. “Come, we are going for our people,” she said as she was being rounded up in Echt. She was transported to Auschwitz, where she died in the gas chamber 71 years ago today.
Her death in the concentration camp, like Christ’s death on the Cross, remains to many a merely a tragic “scandal” and unforgivable “folly,” but she saw in it the mysterious “power and wisdom of God” (cf. 1 Cor 23-24).
Her feast day is an occasion for all of us to become scientists of the Cross and its full redemptive power — even in the midst of the world’s greatest evils!
John Paul II said at her canonization, “The new saint teaches us that love for Christ undergoes suffering. Whoever truly loves does not stop at the prospect of suffering: he accepts communion in suffering with the one he loves. …The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life, spurring her to the point of making the supreme sacrifice. As a bride on the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did not only write profound pages about the “science of the Cross,” but was thoroughly trained in the school of the Cross. Many of our contemporaries would like to silence the Cross. But nothing is more eloquent than the Cross when silenced! The true message of suffering is a lesson of love. Love makes suffering fruitful and suffering deepens love. Through the experience of the Cross, Edith Stein was able to open the way to a new encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and the Cross proved inseparable to her. Having matured in the school of the Cross, she found the roots to which the tree of her own life was attached.”
Jesus wants us all to enter deeply into that school of the Cross which is a school of love. He is calling each of you, as consecrated women, to become his beloved bride on the wedding bed of the Cross, to embrace him and be embraced with him in a cruciform consummation that is the means by which you will become inseparably one flesh by faith. This is the path to real spiritual fruitfulness.
In the Responsorial Psalm today each of us proclaimed four times, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord.” As we prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist, in which we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus on the Cross for our salvation, we will proclaim the anamnesis, the memorial acclamation, beginning the Savior of the world to save us, for by his cross and resurrection he has set us free. The Cross is our spes unica, our only hope, our power and our glory. Each of us, like Teresa, is “blessed by the Cross.” Let us receive from Christ all that we need to deny ourselves and affirm him, lay down our creature comforts and embrace the Cross with Christ and follow him through Calvary to glory.