Homily Series Part 5: Trust in God-No Matter What
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 26, 2014
Today, we come to the final homily in my series “Trust in God-No Matter what.” We began with St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St Bede, and then we heard about two 20th century people: St. John Paul, who effectively fought Nazism and Communism, and one young man who was inspired by him, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko. Blessed Jerzy was a diocesan priest in Poland who played a key role in the overthrow of Communism. If you missed anyone of these homilies, you can find them on parish website at www.princeopeace.me.
Our final saint is a woman who, like Blessed Jerzy, was martyred in Poland-with difference. Blessed Jerzy was killed by the communists, and this saint was murdered by the Nazis, and her name is Edith Stein.
St. Edith was born in Germany in 1891, the youngest of eleven children. Her parents were pious Jews, but as an adolescent, Edith stopped believing in God. But she didn’t stop searching. In fact, Edith had a brilliant mind, and when she went to college, she threw herself into the study of philosophy. She loved the person-centered philosophy that she studied. But things changed radically for her in the summer of 1921. At age 29, in a library, Edith stumbled upon the autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila. She got so wrapped up in it, that she read it from cover to cover in one night. After reading the book, she said to herself, “This is the truth.” Edith kept reading and praying, and-six months later she was baptized and received into the Church, at great personal cost.
Now for the Nazis, it didn’t matter that Edith had become a Catholic. The Nazis did not hate the Jews for their religion but for their “race”. When the Nazis began to persecute the Jews, Edith could have followed her family to America, but she chose not to. Instead, she resisted the Nazis by becoming a Carmelite Sister. For nine years she dedicated herself to contemplative prayer. In an effort to protect her, in 1938 her community sent her to a convent in Holland. But when the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, they registered all Jews, including those who had converted to Christianity. The Dutch bishops protested this persecution by way of a letter that was read from all Catholic pulpits on July 20, 1942.
Two weeks later, the Nazis responded by rounding up all Catholics of Jewish descent on their register-including priests and nuns. They came to the convent of Edith Stein, who, by then, was known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (a name meaning “Blessed by the Cross”). Her sister, Rosas, was also with her. She had become a Third Order Carmelite. Edith was calm, but Rosa was high-strung. Edith respond to that by saying “Come, Rosa, we are going for our people.” The Gestapo gave them exactly thirty minutes to get clothes and enough food for three days. When their time was up, the authorities put the two sisters on a cattle train headed to the Auschwitz death camp. It’s said that someone recognized Sister Teresa on a stop and asked where she was going. She responded, “We are going east.” On August 9, 1942, Edith, her sister Rosa, and 100 other Jewish Catholics were murdered with poisonous gas, their ashes buried in a mass grave.
It’s with St. Edith Stein that I conclude this homily series. Edith Stein-now known as St. Teresa Blessed by the Cross-gives a remarkable witness to trusting in God-no matter what! Even in the midst of terrible suffering, she trusted-no matter what! Remember her words to her sister and those to the onlooker who recognized her. “Come, we are going for our people”, and, “We are going east.” The east we are headed toward is actually a few places-Galilee, where we hear Jesus’ teaching and miracles; Jerusalem, where Jesus died for sins and triumphed over death and darkness; and, the East that we will begin to focus on a month from now, Bethlehem, where we experience Jesus’ birth.
My friends, we are going East, and we are going for our people. This year, we have the unique liturgical opportunity to do those very things. Next Sunday is All Souls Day, and the Sunday after that is the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. Both are in some way a solidarity-All Souls reminding us of our solidarity with those on the way to heaven, and the Feast of Dedication of the Lateran Basilica reminding us of our solidarity with the Pope. Solidarity was important to St. John Paul II, Blessed Jerzy, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. St. Teresa lived her solidarity by living a life of contemplative prayer and by dying for her people. By the way St. Teresa didn’t just die for the Jewish people, she died for you and I who, in Christ, have become branches on the Jewish tree.
Edith Stein, St. Teresa Blessed by the Cross, wrote: "Learn from St. Thérèse (of Lisieux) to depend on God alone and serve Him with a wholly pure and detached heart. Then, like her, you will be able to say 'I do not regret that I have given myself up to Love'." Yes, depend on God alone. As our Psalm says, "My God, my rock of refuge, my shield...my stronghold. The Lord lives and blessed be my rock." Amen.