During the first part of ordinary time after Pentecost, this year I will reflect on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit with reference to the lives of some saints. The first gift is wisdom and I would like to take St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross as our model.
Her name in the world was Edith Stein, and she was a brilliant young German Jewish philosopher. She was an atheist as a teenager and young adult, but became a Catholic in 1922 after reading the works of St Teresa of Avila
She wanted to enter the Carmelites straight away, but was encouraged by the vicar-General of the diocese and by the great Jesuit Newman scholar, Fr Przywara, to remain in the world of Higher Education.
In 1933, the rise of National Socialism in Germany under Adolf Hitler spelt the end of any academic career for a Jewish scholar and in God’s providence, Edith Stein entered the Carmelite convent of Cologne, taking the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
In 1938, the year of her solemn profession, the Nazi persecution of the Jews became more open and St Teresa was smuggled across the border to the Netherlands, to join the convent in Echt.
On 20 July 1942, the Dutch Hierarchy published a pastoral letter read in all Churches condemning Nazi racism. One week later, on 26 July 1942 the Reichskommissar of the Netherlands, ordered the arrest of all Jewish converts who had previously been spared. One week after that, one 2 August 1942, along with 243 other baptised Jews living in the Netherlands, Sr Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa were arrested by the SS.
One week after that, on 9 august 1942, they were gassed at Auschwitz.
Edith Stein worked with Husserl and Heidegger but could not gain academic tenure in 1918 because she was a woman. Nevertheless, she continued her academic work after her conversion, seeking to lead others to the Lord through her philosophical and theological research and teaching.
Wisdom is not the same as knowledge or academic prowess. St Teresa Benedicta had these gifts but also applied them both in the secular world and in the contemplative enclosure to the urgent problems of life that she and her people faced. She was an imaginative and original thinker who was at the same time utterly faithful to the teaching and discipline of the Church and the deeper following of Christ in the religious life.
Her love of the cross prepared her to face the ultimate trial with fortitude and peace. Her wisdom in life and in death were an inspiration not only for Catholics but for the Jewish people and all people of good will.
Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate on the 11th Sunday of Year B, Sunday 14 June 2015.