by The Rev. Danáe Ashley
(Edith Stein icon by Kristen Wheeler https://moderniconographer.com/ Used with permission of the artist.)
Pour out your grace upon thy church, O God; that, like your servant Edith Stein, we may always seek what is true, defend what is right, reprove what is evil, and forgive those who sin against us, even as your Son commanded; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. –Collect of the Day
Today is the feast day of Edith Stein, also known as Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was a philosopher, monastic, and martyr. Edith’s story is fascinating, for she was a German Jewish Roman Catholic Carmelite nun. When I first read this description of her, I wondered how she could be each of those things at the same time? As I read more about her, I understood how she could be faithful to each and all those elements of who she was, as that was who God created her to be.
Edith was uniquely placed to write to Pope Pius XI as a German, Jewish, Roman Catholic and beseech him to speak out publicly against the Nazi regime. In her words:
“As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbor. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. … But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings. Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself ‘Christian’. For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name. Is not this idolization of race and governmental power which is being pounded into the public consciousness by the radio open heresy? Isn’t the effort to destroy Jewish blood an abuse of the holiest humanity of our Savior, of the most blessed Virgin and the apostles? Is not all this diametrically opposed to the conduct of our Lord and Savior, who, even on the cross, still prayed for his persecutors?”
The Pope never answered Edith’s letter, nor did he officially denounce the Nazi regime, although he did work discreetly to help save thousands of lives. Edith was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau in August 1942 after being sent to a convent in the Netherlands in 1938 for safety, not foreseeing that the Nazis would invade the Netherlands and arrest and deport all baptized Christians of Jewish origin.
Edith’s dedication to following Jesus (she was known to say that, like her, Jesus never stopped being a Jew) and also each aspect of who she was drew me to reflect on whether or not I am to each of my self-identifications. After all, God has created each one of us to use our whole selves in service to the Gospel. What about you? Are there parts of yourself that you feel you use in God’s service more than others? Is God calling you to explore how you might further the Gospel through an underused or under-appreciated aspect of your self?
You can read more about Edith’s story on Modern Iconographer, Kristen Wheeler’s website: https://moderniconographer.com/pages/edith-stein?_pos=1&_sid=2573fa3f2&_ss=r
The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is serving part-time as the Associate Rector at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC. She has written for a number of publications, produced a play, and has been featured on several podcasts regarding fertility struggle and faith. Danae’s favorite past times include reading, traveling with her husband, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.