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Extraordinary Women: St. Teresa Benedicta of Cross (Edith Stein)

Our daily lives can seem very ordinary, whether we work all day, answering emails from coworkers who are asking a question that was already answered in an email sent two minutes prior! Or if we are a stay at home mom and are dealing with a two year old tantruming for the fourteenth time that day and it’s only 9:00 am! It’s hard to see eternity in moments when the present seems suffocating.  When I become discouraged by ordinary activities, it’s nice to remember the many extraordinary women who make up the communion of saints.  

One such woman is someone whose genius and writing were the basis of my thesis for my undergrad about femininity, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross or Edith Stein as she is also known.  When I lack patience on God’s timing, lack perseverance, and become selfish and want my own way, I always go back to this dear Saint for support. This intellectual, determined and brave woman was born in Germany in 1891. She was raised in a good Jewish household but became an atheist when she was a teenager. She converted to Catholicism in 1922, after  reading St. Teresa of Avila’s  autobiography. However, Edith’s conversion caused  tension between her and her dear devout Jewish mother yet, Edith did not back away from her new found faith in fact she wished to enter a Carmelite Convent right away. But, she was discouraged by her spiritual advisors, and  she would wait about 12 years before she would finally enter into her vocation. Waiting on God’s timing was not an easy feat for a woman who was highly ambitious and driven. She completed her PhD in Philosophy at 25, at a time when women finishing an undergrad was a rarity, let alone a graduate degree.

It is tempting to become despondent when we feel a call to a vocation but God seems to do nothing to move that call forward.  However, Edith did not become wistful and while away the hours waiting on God for her vocation. Instead she encounter Him in the ordinary and continued to play to her strengths.  She used her brilliant mind and hard earned degree to teach German and History to Dominican Sisters. She also lectured and wrote some of the most profound writings on femininity, I have ever read.  Even so, women who have or continue to wait on God’s timing for their vocation, know that everyday tasks can quickly become excruciating when you feel unsettled in your daily life it can be hard to persevere when you feel the odds are against you.

Soon, even in her teaching, Edith met with obstacles, she had to resign when the Nazi Regime required all civil servants to produce proof of their heritage, and if they were Jewish, their employment was limited. Still Edith Stein persevered even when obstacles prevented her from fulfilling her vocation right away and when unjust laws prevented her from pursuing her profession, (which to show God has a sense of humor and makes good come from bad) was the reason Edith’s spiritual advisor finally relented and allowed her to enter the Carmelite order.  

In my own life as a single woman, I have found it challenging going from my four year degree to building a career. It can also become challenging when you don’t follow the perceived idea of the normal timeline for vocations. Out of about 12 of my childhood friends only three of us went on to get undergraduate degrees, the rest married rather young which was wonderful. Only two us remain unmarried and my fellow single girlfriend and I  sometimes feel the sting of not being in a settled vocation. Yet, I think we have both realized more and more through our work and studies this is where God has placed us and we must strive to serve with great joy and grace to do His Will, just like Edith Stein did. She did not enter her vocation till she was 42 yet in the meantime she was a very productive and amazing woman using her gifts and talents to help and serve others through her profession and writings.

Yet, it’s hurtful to feel left out of a community because you are not following the same timeline as others.  That is why I turn to Edith Stein when I feel like I am behind the times. Edith was no stranger to feeling misplaced and rejected.   She first felt the tension and break between her mother, and Jewish community due to her conversion, and then pushed out of her German citizenship due to her Jewish heritage.  However, she never became bitter or despairing of her situation.  It was not easy for her to persevere it is said in autobiographies about her life that she became depressed and suffer deeply from the persecution of her fellow man under the Nazi regime. However, throughout all these trials, tribulations and lessons in patience she said this about God’s timing:

“Things were in God’s plan which I had not planned at all. 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 my life, 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.”  

What patience and love for God’s will! Truly a Fiat moment, just like our Mother Mary. Edith Stein finally enter the Carmelite order in 1934  with her sister Rosa who also converted to Catholicism. They would be in the order for only eight years before they were arrested and killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.  Edith Stein was declared a martyr by the Catholic Church because her and her sister had been transferred to the Netherlands by her Order for safety however, the Dutch Bishops had fiercely renounced the actions of the Nazi Regime.

Because of this the Nazi’s retaliated by rounding up all Jewish converts who had previously been spared, so it is said she died for the moral teachings of the faith.  St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, inspires me to continuously try to incorporate love, trust, and patience in my daily tasks. To become selfless instead of selfish and so to live as Christ did. Because, she so adeptly shows me, we only have today to fully love God and we must give Him everything because we do not know how many days we have to serve.   God comes to us in the mundane and if we are attentive we will hear Him whisper, “here I AM you have found Me by your faithfulness to the ordinary.”

Alexa M. is an administrative assistant who reads, writes, crochets, bakes, and singe in her spare time. You can find more of her work here.

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