Today the Church asks us to consider Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She is a modern martyr, and the word martyr means witness — a witness and an example.
This is in fact the day on which Saint Teresa Benedicta, who was Jewish, was murdered by the Germans at Auschwitz. She died with thousands and millions of other Jews, in the most dehumanizing way the Nazis could devise. And yet the Church says she is an example — someone to imitate.
We are to do as she did: Teresa Benedicta, Edith Stein, followed Christ. “Come, Christians, follow where the Master trod,” says the old hymn. Edith Stein walked the Way of the Cross — just like the Master — and so must we.
This martyr had an illustrious academic career before her conversion, before she joined the Carmelites. But she wanted the truth and that drew her to the Truth. She went up to the cloister rather than fleeing to it. It took courage to follow the road from secularity to faith, from the academy to a monastery. It took courage to climb Mount Calvary.
We say that our faith never hides, but illuminates. That’s why we can look at Auschwitz without flinching. The believer, by God’s grace, has a deeper understanding of reality. We believe that suffering is never in vain; we affirm that our death has already been transformed completely by the sacrifice of Christ.
We believe and we affirm this. But Saint Teresa Benedicta lived it.
Edith, as a Christian, saw the inexorable approach of the cross. She did not escape in fear. She embraced and she kissed the cross — just as we do in the solemn liturgy for Good Friday. Under the guns of the guards, stripped of her dignity and her clothes, she remembered Easter. She could see — in the midst of industrial-scale genocide, in the depths of war — an ultimate meaning. And she died with Christ, just as she lived with Christ.
Let’s open ourselves to the message of this witness today. Here is an intellectual who became a Christian, a woman of spirit and a woman of the Holy Spirit, a daughter of Abraham who saw in the Cross the summit of all wisdom. Edith Stein, Saint Teresa Benedicta, shows us the way to heaven: simply head down the road to Calvary.