The sabbatical I was granted after service as Provincial that lasted from August 2014 to November 2015 gave me the opportunity to extend my knowledge of Saint Teresa Benedicta (Edith) Stein and to speak about her to several audiences in Europe. From the days I served also as Provincial Director of Ongoing Formation/Continuing Education I was always a strong proponent of such sabbatical leaves. The following fruit of those months spent at the Carmelite monastery in Kensington, England is now one way to show my appreciation, and to open out on to a fascinating description created for the Vatican.
Among other things undertaken then I began translating a book containing a two-pronged analysis of the writings of Edith Stein submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Beatification and Canonization before she was beatified and in preparation for that momentous event.
The first part of the book in Italian gave an assessment of her philosophical thought, the second showed what her spiritual writings contained. It also spoke of her spiritual itinerary through life, including her activities as a Catholic laywoman in the 1920s (photo shows her surrounded by students at a Normal School in Speyer).
A chapter from this second part called “In Carmel for the Church” will easily be welcomed as good spiritual reading for anyone viewing this province website blog. The author who did the assessment for the Vatican was Juan Lozano, noted spiritual theologian who taught at the Chicago Theological Union.
This excerpt from his text relies on several passages taken from the correspondence of the saint:
In Carmel for the Church
During the period that followed her conversion Edith had an inaccurate notion of the relationship between the contemplative life and the world. She admitted this once:
[I]mmediately before, and for a good while after my con-
version, I felt that to lead a devout life meant one had to
give up all that was secular and live totally immersed in
thoughts of the Divine. But gradually I realized that
something else is asked of us in this world and that,
even in the contemplative life, one may not sever the
connection with the world. I even believe that
the deeper one is drawn into God, the more one must “go
out of oneself”; that is, one must go to the world in order
to carry the divine life into it. (Letter 45, February 12, 1928;
ICS edition, CWES 5, p. 54 — slightly amended)
With this discovery she had surpassed the Greek idea of theory-praxis and reached the Christian notion of contemplation. From the contemplatio philosophorum [philosophers’ contemplation] she shifted to the contemplatio Sanctorum [saints’ contemplation]. The above cited letter dates from the beginning of 1928. It allows us to conclude that she already made this discovery some years before her entrance into Carmel and during the period following upon her conversion when she made progress in assimilating the spirit. Writing a biographical note about Mother Francisca of the Infinite Merits of Jesus Christ, Edith quotes from her where she depicted “Saint Teresa, a zealous daughter of the Church” (“Eine deutsche Frau,” pp. 152-53). The spirit of Carmel thus is vividly ecclesial and its contemplative life produces apostolic fruitfulness.
It was with this firm conviction that she entered Carmel: “I hope to be of better help to you than heretofore. Carmelite nuns are here only to pray. . .” (Letter 146b, Summer 1933; CWES 5, p. 149)
To someone who had asked soon after her entrance into Carmel if they would be able to continue writing each other she replied that “I am convinced the permission will always be given to me when a labor of love for a [needy] soul is involved. After all, for us ‘major horum caritas’ [1 Cor 13:13, ‘the greatest of these is charity’] supersedes all other rules.” (Letter 153, August 27, 1933; CWES 5, p. 155)
We even noticed how her superiors ordered her to continue her philosophical reflections in Carmel, but the exchange of letters of the Servant of God shows how she continued, by spiritual correspondence, to “bring to God those who came to her” and to help them with her advice. Nevertheless, Edith well knew that her contribution to the Church was of a higher order and that her fundamental ministry lay elsewhere. Writing to Sister Adelgundis Jaegerschmidt she said:
[I] always remembered your request that I write often, but
surely you did not expect anything during Advent and I am
able only now to gradually send out Christmas greetings. Act-
ual acts of kindness must now be carried out in a different
quiet way. I believe, also, that I will be able to help you more
by them than with words. Of course, it is hardly possible to
think individually of every intention that is recommended to
me from so many sides. All one can do is try to live the
life one has chosen with ever greater fidelity and purity in
order to offer it up as an acceptable sacrifice for all one is
connected with. The confidence placed in us, the almost
frightening importance placed on our life by so many, out-
side, is a constant stimulus [to do better]. Letter 164, January 11,
1934; CWES 5, p. 166)
It seems that the Servant of God had touched the heart of the matter with these words, in line with tradition in religious life. The contemplative person has a higher and more effective ministry than someone from the rest of the Church who can do so only sporadically. This service lies in prayer for the Church, but not precisely to the extent it recalls separate needs. The contemplative helps the Church precisely because this person lives a life of prayer. We know that religious life in and of itself is service to the Church in virtue of being lived out.
Help brought to others was not something extra-added to her own vocation: “No, I am merely convinced that God calls no one for one’s own sake alone. Also, that he is prodigal in demonstrating His love when He accepts a soul.” (Letter 262, May 15, 1938; CWES 5, p. 275)
God calls everyone for others, that is, for the Church. Inherent in this is the typically Christian concept of servitium Dei [service of God], that characterizes religious life. The gift of self to Christ includes a gift to humanity redeemed by Him. Edith was particularly persuaded that the Lord had called her to help everyone belonging to her: “And [I also trust] in the Lord’s having accepted my life for all of them.” (Letter 281, October 31, 1938; CWES 5, p. 291)
Thus Edith was not so surprised, though she certainly was consoled to learn, that her mother died at exactly the moment in which she was renewing her vows, and that her dear Master, Husserl, died when she was professing her solemn vows. (Letter 239, May 18, 1937; Letter 262, May 15, 1938) [Juan Lozano miscalculated the day, as Edmund Husserl actually died on April 27, 1938 six days after Saint Teresa Benedicta’s solemn profession of vows. Trans.]
The basis for this conviction that by her very vocation she was completely given over to benefit others was the deep certainty she had been called for expiation within her vision of membership in the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. We have already seen how, in her explanation of the number and variety of religious institutes, she used St. Paul’s passage about one Body with many members (Letter 104, August 30, 1931; CWES 5, p. 104). Great value derives from personal suffering through an individual’s union with Christ and with others. At Christmas of 1932 she wrote to Anneliese Lichtenberger:
[T]here is a vocation to suffer with Christ and thereby to
cooperate with Him in His work of salvation. When we are
united with the Lord, we are members of the Mystical Body of
Christ: Christ lives on in His members and continues to
suffer in them. And the suffering borne in union with
the Lord is His suffering, incorporated in the great work
of salvation and fruitful therein. That is a fundamental
premise of all religious life, above all the life of Carmel,
to stand proxy for sinners through voluntary and joyous
suffering, and to cooperate in the salvation of humankind.
(Letter 129, December 26, 1932; CWES 5, p. 128)
But it was not just because of the variety of gifts in unity, nor due to suffering [for others] that she lived the mystery of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. She perceived it continuously in liturgical prayer. The Archabbot of Beuron, her spiritual director, wrote about it in these words: “As Edith saw in Christ the Divine Head of the Mystical Body uninterrupted prayer before the Father, so for her the supernatural life consisted first and foremost in the official prayer of the Church, in the realization of the apostolic injunction, ‘Pray without ceasing.’”
Translation Fr. John Sullivan, o.c.d.