Dear brothers in the priesthood
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, the Lord!
1 Edith Stein as a pilgrim of truth
In this year 2012 we commemorate the 90th anniversary of Saint Edith Stein’s christening, who on January 1st, 1922, received the sacrament of baptism, and the 70th anniversary of her death, which occurred on August 9th, 1942, here in Auschwitz on this very day seventy years ago. These mere dates prompt us to stop and consider the blessed life of Saint Edith Stein, by her religious name Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, as a Patron Saint of Europe, a life which in its quest for truth has become normative for all of us.
In front of the large memorial to Edith Stein in Cologne her well-known words are inscribed into the pavement: “Whoever is searching for truth, is searching for God, whether he is aware of it or not.”In her patronage Edith Stein is of vital importance for Europe as a witness of truth. “What is truth?” (John 18:38) Pilate asked. With resignation and relief at the seeming impossibility to reach a knowledge of truth, he hands over the causa “Jesus Christ” quite democratically to the people for their decision, who then sentence Him to death on the cross. He, Pilate, unable to decide what is true and what is untrue, declares himself innocent of this death sentence. Here ignorance shall protect from punishment. In Europe one has sought for two hundred years to refer less and less to the Beyond, the Heavens, God, as a norm for how to act in this world. His eternal values shall now save man by being transferred to the here and now, to humanity, to society. And thus the economy has become the measure of all values with Das Kapital – “Capital” – as the bible of the new materialism. The lives and thoughts of human beings today are no longer determined by the question whether something is true or false but whether it is sellable or unsellable. A religious faith getting involved in this would annihilate itself. The testimony of Edith Stein’s life shows us this clearly.
Socrates, the Greek philosopher, says, “Among all goods truth deserves the highest position, with the gods as well as with men.” Truth is the intrinsic home of the human being. “Truth alone is the adequate ground on which man can stand,” Pope Benedict XVI says. Whoever gives man less than the truth, deceives him. Truth is not relative. There is also no plural to it. It is not a matter of majority decision. Something is true or it is not. It is also not right to say that everything is equally true, for then everything would also be equally false. Edith Stein shows us the way from the dictatorship of relativism to true human dignity, by urging the human being not to exclude the quest for the truth from their lives.
2 Saint Edith Stein will not be content with anything less than the truth
She burns, as it were, in her longing to recognize the truth. This longing may well be the most characteristic and at the same time the most profound trait of her personality. In this, ideological doctrines cannot convince her. She subjects every phenomenon to the scrutiny of her clear, analytical mind. In her passionate quest for the truth she comes in contact with many great academic minds of her time. And here she becomes aware that a person searching for the truth ultimately cannot bypass the question of God. Edith Stein is in search of philosophical truth, and she finds the truth in the person of Jesus Christ.
Edith Stein did nor convert from a practised Jewish religion to a practised Christian one, but it is from the milieu of academic indifference that she enters the house of faith. This reality of faith becomes the truth of her life. She encounters Jesus Christ who says of Himself, “I am the truth.” (John 14:6) She understands very quickly that truth has a face, which is love. And here she found the goal of her life: “the love of God which has concentrated itself in the Cross.” Her spiritual title of nobility points to this. For to her religious name Teresa she adds .”Benedicta a Cruce” – “Blessed by the Cross.” She has taken sides with the Crucified Christ. Already before entering the Carmelite Convent in Cologne she senses what is in store for the Jews in Nazi Germany and in the rest of occupied Europe. Here once more the moment of truth has come for her. When she was arrested by the Gestapo on August 2nd, 1942, her name was meant to be wiped out for ever. But: “Come. We are going for our people!” she says to her sister Rosa (at the arrest for their transportation), and thus she verifies what conversion to truth meant for her, “the great daughter of Israel and of the Carmel,” as Pope John Paul II called her at the ceremony of her Beatification in Cologne. She was and remained a Jewess. She has taken sides with Christ Crucified to be blessed by him, not for herself alone, but with all for whom Christ has died and has risen. That is serious, deadly serious, but it is the dark side of a bright light that nobody can see yet. And it is what conversion to truth means in the most extreme case.
3 In the Christian faith the mystery of the Cross and of suffering is the mystery of love
God is love in person. That means He is absolute verticality, wholly ascending from the I to the you. And this God becomes a human being in Jesus Christ.
And the human being is total horizontality. Saint Augustine defines the human heart as “Cor incurvatum in se.” (‘the heart turned in upon itself’). True God and true man means: being crucified. True God – pure verticality, and true man – pure horizontality, geometrically form the cross. And therefore the Cross is the minus of the world transformed into the plus through the commitment of God. The love of God in the Cross makes the minus a plus. He transforms something negative into something positive: death into life, lies into truth, loss into gain, meaninglessness into meaning, despair into hope, sadness into joy.
At this point I would like to mention my own biography. Like Edith Stein I was born in Breslau, even though much later than she. For more than twenty years I have now been living in Cologne like Edith Stein, although also much later. But it still makes me blush with shame to think that at that time none of us, Christians in Germany, went under the Cross with Edith Stein and her people. We left them alone with the Cross. That must never, never happen again.
Pope John Paul II calls Auschwitz “the Golgotha of the 20th century.” The central point of the Cross, in which the vertical divine line crosses the horizontal line of man, makes the transcending, the ascension possible. At this centre of the Cross the holy sister Theresa Benedicta a Cruce is at her destination. From here she fulfils her mission: to open the eyes of human beings to the truth which – in the words of Christ – shall make us free. “Only he who knows God also knows man!” (R. Guardini).
In order to make God be forgotten the Nazis attempted to exterminate Yahveh’s first witnesses from the earth, as Pope Benedict XVI said here in Auschwitz. They put themselves in God’s stead and as a result trampled down upon human beings, made in the image of God. This is what Auschwitz stands for as the horrible memory of these terrible events. Once the so-called final solution of the Jewish question would be accomplished, it would be the turn of God’s people of the New Testament; that was the strategy of the Nazis.
The last written evidence by Edith Stein that we possess is a slip of paper, which she sent out through a gap in the railway wagon which stopped at a station on the transport to Auschwitz. On it was written, “Ex oriente lux” – “Light comes from the east.” By this she meant: We are going to meet the risen Christ. From her intensive discipleship to Christ Crucified she knew that the seeming powerlessness of Christ on the Cross proves stronger than sin itself in the defenceless surrender to the hatred of the sinners. She has let herself be called and be included in the vicarious sacrifice of Christ Crucified.
The French writer Léon Bloy expresses the experience of his life in these well known words, “Lord, you pray for those who crucify you, but you crucify those that love you.” That may well be the most suitable and the deepest characterization of the vocation of Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce: “Lord, you pray for those who crucify you, but you crucify those that love you.”
In the Church there is no vocation to being only a bystander at His passion, but there is one of being participant in His passion. That was the great vocation of Sister Benedicta a Cruce. It is not that she asked for it. It was assigned to her, and she accepted it. She was blessed by the Cross and she became a great blessing for us and all of Europe, yes, indeed, for the whole world. If we ourselves should receive such a vocation, namely to participate in His passion, as we see in Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, or to be a rescuer of the persecuted, as the “Righteous among the Nations,” then we should not deny ourselves or fail, but stand bravely next to Christ crucified so that the Cross does not become horizontalized. For then the plus would become a minus. To empty the Cross would mean to take away its outward form and thereby its content, it would mean to banish the love of God from our world. What this results in is shown to us here as we cast our eyes over this “Golgotha of the 20th century.”
Here stands Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce as the embodiment of the apostolic admonition and promise, “Do not make the Cross void.” It is the truth about God’s love, “In the Cross is salvation.” Let us be blessed by the Cross, let us be “Benedicti” and “Benedictae a Cruce” – ‘human beings blessed by the Cross’ who will be a blessing for others. Amen
+ Joachim Cardinal Meisner
Archbishop of Cologne
(Translated by Annegret Fuehr)