How Edith Stein Helped Me to (Really) Know Myself

Edith stein workshop

Most of my Catholic friends have several saints with whom they consider to be close spiritual friends, mentors on their life journey.

For me some of my favorites include: St. Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Merton, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Edith Stein, more commonly known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

As a woman, I feel a particular need in my journey to have a variety of female saints and holy women to encourage and challenge me in living the Christian life. When I look over my life, my friendship with Edith was definitely one of years in the making.

Meeting Edith Stein

I first learned of this Jewish convert turned Carmelite nun at the first parish I worked at in youth ministry. A co-worker told me of her story, specifically about what she had written on what it means to be a woman. It sparked my interest. But after reading some of her heavy writings and philosophical insights, I wrote her off thinking it was too “deep” for me to comprehend.

Fast forward to several years ago.

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I decided to not so quickly write Edith off, and read this book, which was an assortment of her writing on different topics. My interest was sparked. I was fascinated with what she said, how she challenged me to know myself more deeply as a woman.

Then about six months later, I stumbled across across a Catholic feminist blog for women, Fem Catholic.

On the side bar, there are listed a wide variety of book titles for Catholic women to check out. My eyes landed on this book. And it was that book that drew me into deeper friendship with this woman of God. My own copy is dogeared, highlighted and written in, and has multiple colored sticky notes.

Why Edith Stein is Important for Catholic Women

One of the things I love most about Edith is that she is a female role model for all Catholic women: single, discerning, religious, married, divorced, widowed. Her life and example has relevance for all of us. To me, that is why she is so relatable even today.

Long before Edith ever took vows as a Carmelite, she was a highly educated woman, something very uncommon at that time in the 1930’s. She was a writer, lecturer, and used her time to mentor and nurture young women. She lived in the world for eleven years before she entered Carmel. Even after professing vows, her superiors encouraged her gifts of writing and public speaking.

Knowing Ourselves…

But the most profound lesson I have learned in becoming friends with Edith, is that she has helped me to truly come to know myself. Edith’s writings teach women today that before we can carry out specific roles and fulfill our God-given vocations, we need to “first become a person.” This is a quote that has led to much inner reflection and personal growth in my own life:

Before they can be ready to assist others, women first need to be securely anchored in their own depths.

She empowers women to first mature in their own self awareness and identity. Another way to say this is, “Woman, Know Thyself!”

…as Beloved of God

What women need most is to first possess a deep understanding of our dignity and worth as women in the eyes of God. We cannot give to others in our careers, vocations, or friendships, what we do not yet first possess.

Edith holds a banner up for all women, advocating that we first know ourselves at a soul-deep level. When we make time for this reflection and growth, we will be better friends, sisters, wives, girlfriends, moms, and grandmas.

Want More Edith Stein Talk?

It is this book that will serve as a guide for my upcoming workshop on October 23rd. The workshop is called: Woman, Know Thyself: Life Lessons from Edith Stein. We will be discussing three practical, simple life lessons for all women (any stage of life or vocation!) from Edith Stein’s own life and writings.

With these helpful ways, I have found I have come to really know myself better, and I hope you will as well.

I would also encourage you to buy a copy of the book so you can better get to know Edith, but also it will be a great place to start to familiarize yourself with her life and writings.

I hope to hang out with many of you at the workshop!

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Patty Breen is a full-time lay minister who finds joy in running, strong cups of coffee, and all things Ignatian spirituality. A Midwestern gal from the mitten state, she is constantly learning to find grace in all things. She is passionate about ministry to divorced Catholics and women whose relationships have been impacted by sexual addiction. You can find out more about her here.

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