Tuesday, August 12, 2008

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross & the Mystery of Sin

August 9th was the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein, an extraordinary woman who understood the deep truth, that to understand the cross one must have experienced the cross, to understand evil one must have experienced evil, a core concept informing the work of the LampStand Foundation.

This first excerpt from her cannonization, is from the Vatican website:

“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."…

“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."…

“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."

This second excerpt is from her book, The Science of the Cross.

“Through sin human nature, represented by the first humans, lost its honor—its original perfection and graced elevation. It is raised up anew in every individual human soul that is reborn through the grace of baptism into the state of the children of God. It is crowned in the chosen souls who attain to bridal union with the Redeemer. This happens “under the tree of the cross,” as the ripened fruit of the death of the cross and in co-suffering this death on the cross. But how are we to understand that the place of this elevation and that of the fall are one and the same place, the tree of the cross and the tree of paradise, one and the same? It seems to me the solution lies in the mystery of sin. The tree is paradise, the fruits of which were forbidden to human beings, was, after all, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Human beings could only get an authentic experimental knowledge of evil and its radical opposition to good by doing evil. So we may see in the tree of paradise an emblem for human nature in its openness to sin and in the fruit of the tree, actual sin (the first as well as every succeeding one) with all its consequences. But the most terrible result of sin, and therefore the revelation of its terrifying effectiveness is the passion and death of Christ.

“The redemption is also the fruit of the tree of paradise in a multiple sense: because sin moved Christ to accept the passion and death, because it was sin in all the forms in which it appears that crucified Christ, and because thereby sin became the instrument of redemption. The soul united to Christ, however, in her co-suffering with the Crucified (that is, in the dark night of contemplation) attains to “knowledge of good and evil” and experiences this as redemptive strength. After all, it is repeatedly stressed that the soul arrives at purification through the keen pain of self-knowledge (as recognition of one’s own sinfulness).” (2002). Washington D.C.; ICS Publications. (pp. 260-261)