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Posted by on Aug 9, 2008

Saint of the Day: St. Edith Stein – August 9

Saint of the Day: St. Edith Stein – August 9

Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Carmelite nun, was born Edith Stein in 1891in Poland and was killed in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942. Edith and her sister Rosa, along with other Jews who had become Catholics, were arrested by the Nazis occupying the Netherlands in retaliation for the denunciation by the Dutch bishops of Nazi anti-Semitism.

There has often been criticism of the silence of the Church with regard to the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Before he became Pope Pius XII, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli had been the papal nuncio to Germany during the 1930’s and negotiated a treaty, or concordat, between the Vatican and Nazi Germany. Gerard Noel has published a new book, Pius XII: The Hound of Hitler, which focuses on the crushing conflict the Pope experienced within himself and the deep personal toll it took on him.

Pius XII’s fears for the Church were only increased by the Nazi extermination of Jewish converts to Catholicism in the Netherlands. A broader analysis of the Pope’s situation makes it seem almost impossible. Events were beyond the ability of any one person to change or control. Mary Doria Russell, in A Thread of Grace, portrays the complexity of the Italian resistance to the Holocaust. The sheer caprice of war annihilates and spares individuals and communities at random. Most Italian Jews were saved by their neighbors and complete strangers. Unfortunately, this was not the pattern in the rest of Europe.

St. Edith Stein could not justify the horrendous evil that was to be visited on her people in any theological sense but that of the cross. In her final few days at Auschwitz, Edith and her sister Rosa made an indelible impression on some of the children. As the survivors tell it, many mothers were so traumatized that they collapsed emotionally. Edith and Rosa comforted and held the children and did what they could to meet their needs. Edith Stein’s contribution to the philosophy of experience was the notion that our identity is created not through an Ego that apprehends others. Rather, the Ego arises out of our identification with the needs, desires, and feelings of others. We come to be, as self-conscious beings, through compassion.

In her final days, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross showed that her philosophy of compassion was not just an intellectual construct but the framework of her life and legacy to us.

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Posted by on Dec 27, 2007

Saint of the Day: St. Edith Stein – August 9

Saint of the Day – 12/27 St. John the Evangelist


December 27 is the feast day of the beloved disciple, St. John the Evangelist. St. John was one of the 12 apostles. He and his brother James had been followers of St. John the Baptist. They were fisherman who worked with their father Zebedee. Sts. Peter, James, and John have a special place in the Gospels. They are called away by Jesus to hear and witness things in which the other disciples are not included. St. John is presented in the Gospels as a young man and a very close friend of Jesus – the disciple whom he loved. As Jesus was dying on the cross and all of the other male disciples had fled, St. John was there with Mary the mother of Jesus and some other women. Jesus, in his dying words, entrusts His mother to St. John.

Tradition names St. John as the author of the fourth Gospel, the Book of Revelation and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd letters of John. Some scripture scholars in the last quarter of the 20th century have challenged this traditional notion of St. John as the common author of these works. Some scholars refer to the “Johannine school “- a group or a community of students of St. John – as the source of these works.

The Gospel According to John is unique. It bears very little resemblance to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because you can line them up side by side in three columns and see that they are parallel documents, with elements from the same source and a great similarity of phrasing and story content. The Gospel According to John sees signs and wonders in the life of Jesus and has layer upon layer of symbolism and meaning. Yes, the basic story line is the same, but there are soaring heights of poetry in sections such as the Prologue – introduction – and the prayers of Jesus after the Last Supper.

Fr. Raymond Brown – one of the great scripture scholars of the 20th century – sees a weaving of the history of the Johannine community of believers within the Gospel. The conflicts and tensions of the early church are mirrored in those of the characters in the Gospel story. This is especially true of the conflict between Jews over the message and meaning of Jesus. As a book written by Jews for Jews, the Fourth Gospel has many very negative things to say about Jews. As family fights go, this one was no exception in its bitterness. Eventually, Jewish authorities saw quite correctly that the followers of Jesus, who proclaimed his resurrection from the dead, had stepped beyond the boundaries of the Jewish religion that they were attempting to preserve after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the obliteration of Jewish life in Palestine.

The Second Vatican Council, in its decree on Non-Christian religions – Nostra Aetate, In Our Age – makes it clear that using this and other material to justify attacks on Jews or anti-Jewish hatred is historically incorrect and cannot be justified morally. After the destruction of the Temple and Israel in 70 AD, Rabbinic Judaism came to the fore and those groups that would later be called Christian began to develop a separate identity.

The other theme in the Fourth Gospel is the focus on the Incarnation – that Jesus is both human and divine. There was a very strong movement among some early followers of the Jesus movement who looked on him as a god masquerading as a human. Spirit would never truly be one with something so abject and base as matter in their way of thinking. Some of these early followers saw creation as a cosmic mistake by an errant creator figure. In broad terms, we can call this movement Gnosticism, based on the Greek word for knowledge. This true and secret knowledge came to the elect and enlightened them to the fact that they were spirits trapped in bodies. Granted, this is an over simplification of a very complex topic, but it is important to note that the Fourth Gospel uses many of the themes of light and darkness, of the mystical living word of God in Jesus, to convey a message and understanding of the meaning of Christ which enobled creation and our very humanity.

The letters of John, 1, 2, and 3 are exhortations to the followers of Jesus to live in love, peace, and mutual respect. Again, the theme of the human and divine reality of Jesus comes through loud and clear. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”(I John 1)

Scholars differ on whether the Apocalypse (Revelation) of John was produced by the author or authors of the Fourth Gospel. We can spend years reviewing the direct and hidden meaning of the Book of Revelation but that will have to be the topic of several other posts.

It is hard to directly link the beloved disciple of the Gospels, the man to whom Jesus entrusted his mother, to the writings which bear his name. However, the voice of tradition cannot be discounted either in the case of such a favored and remarkable young man.

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Posted by on Sep 20, 2007

Saint of the Day: St. Edith Stein – August 9

Jews and The Passion of Sister Rose

Sister Rose Thering (1920-2006) did her doctoral research on the image of Jews in Catholic textbooks. She received her degree in 1961 from St. Louis University, but her writing would be the catalyst for a significant change. Jews would no longer be labeled the “Christ killers.” The Second Vatican Council would adopt Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), a ground breaking document on non-Christians, including Jews.

Sr. Rose Thering’s research came to the attention of Cardinal Augustin Bea at the beginning of Council in 1962. Cardinal Bea was a major force in ecumenical relations. According to Fr. Eugene Fisher, the issue of anti-semitism came up early in the deliberations of the Council and was one of the last to be resolved. Anti-semitic tracts were submitted to the bishops (the Council fathers) and debunked. Diplomatic pressure came from Arab governments. Finally the issue was addressed in 15 sentences comprising section 4 of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time).

These two sentences strike down any biblical notion of the culpability of the Jewish people:

Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (see Jn 19:6), neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion. It is true that the church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy scripture. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechizing or in preaching the word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ.

It is telling that this passage refers to the Gospel of St. John 19:6, since this Gospel casts Jews in a very negative light ,as do many other parts of the New Testament. This acrimony toward the Jews is part of a larger conflict between the two groups in the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. In fact, the tension with the Christian movement regarding observance of Mosaic law and Jewish practice was also intense. Over time, the Hellenistic segment prevailed by sheer force of numbers and their ability to assimilate into the broader Graeco-Roman culture.

The persistence of anti-semitism can be seen in Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. The blockbuster movie followed the basic story line but contained a lot of materials that were the private revelations of a 19th century German nun. Somehow, Jesus, his family, and followers are no longer Jews but Aryans in the hands of alien hostile Jews. This reinforces something worse than a stereotype. It becomes an archetype of the Christian unconscious that structures dreams, perceptions, and ultimately – genocide.

The Jewish feast, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, comes every year as Summer gives way to Fall. As Yom Kippur approaches, Sr. Rose Thering provides an excellent example of going beyond guilt. She opens the door to a new and better day for everyone.

“She was a one-woman wrecking crew,” said Rabbi James Rudin, senior inter-religious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, and a friend of Thering’s for 36 years. “What she helped wreck was 2,000 years of the teaching of contempt which was built into so much of Christian teaching.”

For an in-depth report, see the section in the Anti-Defamation League site on the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) in October 2005.

Sister Rose’s Passion, a short documentary of Sr. Rose’s life and work, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2005. It is well worth seeing.

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