A message from Father Nick 74

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion,

Israel, shout aloud!”    (Zephaniah)

We hear those words of the prophet in our winter Advent season. Mary is the daughter of Zion who rejoices to welcome God’s son into this world and is in turn welcomed by him into heaven. Now, in late summer, we celebrate her “Assumption” as the great sign of God’s purpose for us all. We rightly think of Our Lady as unique, but she represents us too and she also embodies the Jewish people’s bridal response to God’s love.

We see a similar response in the saint whose feast day fell on 9th August: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, originally known as Edith Stein. She was canonised by St John Paul II on 11th October, 1998, and proclaimed by him “Co-Patron” saint of Europe on 2nd October, 1999.

Edith Stein was a devout Carmelite nun who is counted among our own martyrs, yet she died – like so many other individuals – because her family was Jewish. Her prioress tried to protect her by moving her to Switzerland, but Edith refused to leave her own blood sister, living in the same convent as a member of the Carmelite third order. They were both forced to wear the yellow star inscribed with the word, “Jew”, and eventually they were both arrested. The last words heard from Edith as the two were taken from the convent were, “Come, let us go for our people”. She was killed in Auschwitz on 9th August, 1942.

Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was both Jewish and Christian, but she is not a prize to squabble over. She would be better honoured as a reconciling influence. She was born on 12th October, 1891, which in that year was Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement”, and the spirituality of atonement would illuminate her Christian faith.

She was lively, attractive, popular, musically gifted, and highly intelligent. As a student of philosophy, she was so far advanced that her university teacher, the famous Edmund Husserl, chose her to be his successor. Above all, Edith was relentless in her search for truth. After a spell of atheism, she chanced upon a German translation of St Teresa of Avila’s spiritual autobiography and said at last, “This is the truth”. She went directly to buy a Catholic catechism and missal.

Her particular concern was with the spiritual life and education of women. She said, “There is nothing in an age that so sharply mirrors its philosophy as the lives of its women,” and she felt a special closeness to Our Lady. Her scholarly writings were profound and empathetic.

Above all, she sees how Jesus, like the Jewish high priest on Yom Kippur, enters into his Father’s presence on our behalf. Jesus is the enduring high priest who overcomes death and changes life for us:

“He gazes upon the uncovered face of the Eternal One and has nothing to fear… All who belong to him may hear how, in the Holy of Holies of his heart, he speaks to the Father; they are to experience what is going on and are to learn to speak to the Father in their own hearts.”