It would be a gross understatement to say I have very little in common with Edith Stein, also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was born into a devout Jewish family in Germany in 1891; she later became an atheist and a brilliant philosopher and then a Discalced Carmelite Nun who died in Auschwitz during WWII.
Despite these differences I’ve had what feels like a magnetic pull to her for many years.
She has become a special intercessor for me; I have a portrait of her at home that a dear friend drew and it hangs prominently in our office space. Her eyes are heavy; she has seen so much and lived so much and yet she is quiet and not proud. It seems she’s always there when I need to be reminded of the more important things in life.
You see, Edith Stein died in a gas chamber in a concentration camp.
And it has been reported by survivors that one of her last acts on this earth was brushing a child’s hair. They were waiting to be gassed and surely she knew this meant death for everyone. Instead of panicking, instead of being hysterical (all the things I would be doing), she cared for another human being through her physical touch. She brushed a child’s hair despite knowing they were about to die.
She knew that child was “unrepeatable”, as JPII has said.
She loved the way Jesus taught us to love until the very end. “Love one another as I have loved you.” I have to believe that small act of love meant the world to that child in that moment. Edith Stein never married and never had any children, but I often wish I could be the kind of wife and mother she would have been—gentle, peaceful, quiet and self-giving.
Every time I look into her eyes in that portrait, I’m instantly reminded of how she chose to spend her final moments on this earth—caring for a stranger. I pray often for the courage of Edith Stein. The courage to love my own kids and husband the way that Jesus loves me.
“If anyone comes to me I want to lead them to Him.” -Edith Stein