Date: Sunday, August 14, 2016
At the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke, angels announce to shepherds the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The angelic chorus praises God: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Yet here at a critical moment in his public ministry, Jesus shocks his disciples: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? No I tell you, but rather division.” Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God and he knows some will embrace his message and others will reject it. Jesus’ message will set people and families against each other because it will be impossible to remain neutral in the face of one set ablaze with the Gospel. Even a daughter and mother!
On Tuesday, August 9, we celebrated the feast of Edith Stein. She was born the eleventh child of Orthodox Jewish parents in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland in 1891. She studied under Edmund Husserl (phenomenology) and did her dissertation on “empathy.” Inspired by the writings of St. Teresa of Avila she was baptized a Catholic on January 1, 1922. Her academic career came to end with the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany. In 19 33 Edith entered the Carmelite Convent in Cologne where she received the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. After “Kristallnacht” believing her presence in the convent endangered the nuns, she allowed herself to be smuggled to a Carmelite convent in Holland. She had no thought of escaping the fate of her people by offering herself to the Heart of Jesus as “a sacrifice of atonement” for the Jewish people, for the aversion of war and for the sanctification of her Carmelite family. Despite her cloistered status she had to wear a yellow Star of David on her habit. After Dutch Bishops publicly protested the persecution of Jews, in retaliation, the Gestapo arrested Edith and her sister Rosa who had joined her as a laywoman in the convent. They were transported to Auschwitz where they died in a gas chamber on August 9, 1942.
Edit had caused her mother great pain. At the age of 13 she professed to be an atheist then later announced that she was becoming a Catholic. We can imagine the heartache for an Orthodox Jewish mother. Ironically, as Edith was drawn into the Church, she rediscovered her Jewish faith and accompanied her mother to the synagogue.
Remember in the Gospel, when a person in the crowd praises the mother of Jesus: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you,” but Jesus replies: “Blessed are those who keep the Word of God.” Jesus demands a greater loyalty than blood ties. There is a cost to discipleship.