August 9, 2011

Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Father Mark has a great post on St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  She is a fascinating person to study.  A student of Edmund Husserl, arguably one of his best, she advanced philosophical discussions in phenomenology.  Reading the life of Teresa of Avila inspired her conversion and she became a Carmelite nun.  She began to become a great contemplative, plummeting the depths of prayer like the great Spanish Mystic.  Deported from Holland during the war, she was sent to the Auschwitz extermination camp which is in the vicinity of Krakow.  This plight, bleak though it was, did not discourage her.  She saw it as an opportunity to make a more perfect offering of herself to God for those she loved.  She offered her plight as an act of prayer - for her family, for the Jewish People of whom she was part, for Germany and for all those she loved.  While many people see death as an escape from the pain, inconvenience and difficulty of life, Christians view death as a final act of worship - the supreme moment of our life of faith.  To this end, St. Teresa has shown us the science of the Cross in the very face of the evil - she has shown us that prayer is always possible and that we never have to lose hope.

My original plan was to go to Auschwitz as part of our pilgrimage today to honor her and to remember the many souls all over the world who still suffer as victims of inhumane ideologies and godless malice.  Last year, in Dachau, I remember the sobering sounds of a young woman sobbing.  The effects of cruelty ought to be sobbed over and remembering the evil of which we are capable ought to move us to beg for God's mercy.  This is what I had hoped to do today.  However, most of our group arrived today and many of them had difficulty getting here.  So my day was spent gathering and welcoming our pilgrims.

Hospitality - giving and receiving it - is a vital part of the spirituality of being a pilgrim.  There is something of the mystery of welcoming Christ in it.  Sometimes, listening to God in prayer must be temporarily postponed so that we can welcome the Lord in the disguise of those He sends us. Nonetheless, a special grace still connected me to St. Teresa.  Three pilgrims who came yesterday had some free time this afternoon while everyone else was getting in.  So they went out to the former extermination camp on their own -- not only to honor St. Teresa (Edith Stein) but also to honor St. Maximilian Kolbe who was killed in a starvation bunker in the same complex a couple miles away.  In fact, yesterday was the anniversary of his being sent to the bunker after he offered to substitute himself for a man condemned to die.  Accounts from the prison guards themselves tell us that he turned that hellish bunker into a place of love, praying with and comforting those with whom he was condemned unto the end.  When the seminarians left to go to this bunker today, they carried my intentions with them -- which means they carried your intentions too.