For the moment, it seems like the bad guys are winning. If you look closely, the folks pushing abortion, religious constraint, secularism, contra subsidiarity, giganto government and an entire menu of bad ideas contrary to Truth are all wearing black hats. In our white hats, we seem to be outnumbered. It’s like looking at a few grains of salt in a sea of pepper. That’s distressing. So, in tumultuous times, I turn to the saints––examples of Man at his best. And after I have a chance to visit with one of them, I once again become hopeful.
If we listen to the Holy Spirit indwelling in us and trust, the leaping of tall buildings is only a start. Saints do that before breakfast. But some of them deserve more than my blithe humor. I’d like to tell you about one such woman whose faith and strength brings me to my knees. If she were alive today, her contributions to the national dialogue would be incalculable. I’m extraordinarily thankful for her life and inspiration.
I’m going to take artistic license and present a short stage scene about Saint Edith Stein. My concept is that words taken out of context––Edith’s writings for example––and injected into a fictionalized account do not diminish the truth of her statements whatsoever. Her perspective and faith-driven wisdom––after all, she’s a saint––would not change with the circumstances. They would be immutable.
Additionally, her experiences and insight as a subject of crushing bigotry may have great relevance to Catholics in an increasingly hostile world.
Born Jewish, she was a brilliant philosopher, writer, feminist, Carmelite nun and martyr for her faith. Arrested in retaliation for Dutch Bishops protesting the deportation of Jews, she was sent, along with her sister, to an intermediate camp in Holland before finally being transported by boxcar to Auschwitz. They both died in the gas chambers on August 9, 1942.
The scene location is a boxcar crammed with 100 people on its way from Holland to Auschwitz. It’s been four days, many of the inhabitants are either dead or insane, the air is hot and practically unbreathable, the floor caked with caustic quick lime and human waste.
Shoulder to shoulder, Edith is holding the hand of her older sister Rosa––they’re sitting against stacked dead bodies because they have no choice––and they’re having a quiet, resigned conversation amid the inevitability.
I use Edith Stein’s own words––from her writings, etc.––for her part of the dialogue; the scene itself and Rosa’s words are my imagination. The conditions within the boxcar are historically accurate.
God forgive me if I fail to honor them both.
Rosa – Do you remember what Mother said when you told her you were going into the convent?
Edith – I do. She said, ‘Why did you get to know Christianity? I don’t want to say anything against him. He may have been a very good person. But why did he make himself God?’ I remember well.
Rosa – Even now it makes me smile but there’s a sadness too. I don’t think she ever understood.
Rosa gazes around the boxcar. The misery and inhumanity are stifling.
Rosa continues – Sister, are we ever going to be able to speak of this?
Edith follows her sister’s eyes, gathering the horror as well.
Edith – Dear sweet Rosa. 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. We who grew up in Judaism have a duty to bear witness to the young generation who are brought up in racial hatred. 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.
Rosa – I try but prayers seem, I don’t know, hopeless. And how does one ever bear witness to this! What’s happening in here is otherworldly, beyond evil.
Edith – 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.
Rosa – But our pleas go nowhere. And you speak of comfort, Sister. I so wish I felt it.
Edith – 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 our lives, 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.
Rosa – So I must be part of his plan as well. I converted, I followed you into the Order, I trusted. Yes?
Edith – Of course. 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.
Edith gently wipes the sweat from Rosa’s brow. It’s an unhurried moment, their eyes communicating love and finality.
Edith continues – 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.
Rosa – This part of the world I can do without. And I don’t see how a divine life would make a difference in here. Yet alone our world.
Edith – Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust.
Rosa – You say that. But your holocaust will be mine as well. How can I accept that? How can you? The hell with your damned empathy!
The boxcar begins to decelerate and jerk about as screeching brakes are applied. The poor souls amid this mini pogrom are immediately thrust into a hell of not knowing what’s next.
Rosa desperately looks to her sister for encouragement and strength.
Edith – 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.
The boxcar door slams open. Jagged light, loud noise, screaming voices, barking dogs, and frantic movement greet them.
Rosa, whispering to Edith – I don’t think I can do this, Sister.
Edith – Come, we are going for our people.
The Vatican’s biography of Saint Edith Stein ends with this last paragraph.
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 honored “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.”