On August 9th the Catholic Church remembers St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Edith Stein was born to a Jewish family in 1891. She studied philosophy and was a student of the renowned professor Edmund Husserl. As she grew older she became more and more non-religious (drifting from her Jewish roots) but she also began to meet Christians whose intellectual and spiritual lives she came to admire. She was searching. In 1921, while visiting some friends, Edith spent a whole night reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She later recalled, “When I had finished the book I said to myself: This is the truth.”
In 1934 Edith entered a Carmelite convent and she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She took the name as a symbol of her acceptance of suffering. “I felt,” she wrote, “that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take upon themselves on everybody’s behalf.” In 1942 Teresa along with her sister Rosa (who had also become Catholic) and members of her religious community were arrested by the Nazis. On August 9, 1942 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross died at the concentration camp in Auschwitz.
In his second volume of Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict reflects on the depth of awareness of sin that our Lord had and knew as he was making his journey to the cross. It is common to think that because our Lord was sinless he really did not know the weight of sin but the Holy Father states that the opposite is in fact the case. Because of his sinlessness (unlike us) our Lord truly recognized the real tragedy and sorrow of sin and it was this that he bore to the cross for all of us.
“The drama of the Mount of Olives lies in the fact that Jesus draws man’s natural will away from opposition and back toward synergy, and in so doing he restores man’s true greatness. In Jesus’ natural human will, the sum total of human nature’s resistance to God is, as it were, present within Jesus himself. The obstinacy of us all, the whole of our opposition to God is present, and in his struggle, Jesus elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self.”
“If the Letter to the Hebrews treats the entire Passion as a prayer in which Jesus wrestles with God the Father and at the same time with human nature, it also sheds new light on the theological depth of the Mount of Olives prayer. For these cries and pleas are seen as Jesus’ way of exercising his high priesthood. It is through his cries, his tears, and in his prayers that Jesus does what the high priest is meant to do: he holds up to God the anguish of human existence. He brings man before God.”
St. Teresa Benedicta wrote much throughout her life both prior to her conversion and afterwards. Her writings witness to a highly intelligent woman courageous in her search for the truth. She found that truth in the cross. Her final work was a study on St. John of the Cross entitled, “The Science of the Cross.”
In the cross, St. Teresa realized, Jesus brings us before God.