Edith Stein - Heroic Fortitude

  Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.

      Prayer that looks at the real and compares it with the goodness of God cannot ignore Kosovo/Iraq and the violence mentioned in our daily news. These terrible realities of violence, war and ethnic cleansing remain in our thoughts and challenge us to integrate the good and the evil that comes from within and without. As we daily experience these challenges, at least on an emotional level, we look for guides who can point us toward integration and wholeness in a broken world. Edith Stein, or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,1 is growing in popularity and respect as one who embraced the sufferings of her age (which are unfortunately similar to the sufferings of our age) and who integrated them into her own spiritual life.

      This recently canonized Saint2 was able to take what seemed to be opposite ideas and find the common thread that bound them together. Her genius in philosophy was to use the phenomenological method to examine the notion of empathy3 and to rescue the new philosophy from solipsism. For this she earned the gratitude of her teacher, Edmund Husserl,4 and furthered the development of this modern school of philosophy. Lest one think of this aspect of her work as some esoteric problem for the scholars, let us remember the project of the late Cardinal Bernadin urging us to discover Common Ground in the Church. In order to search in truth for places of agreement in the midst of increasing diversity in our culture and in our religion, we need the same kind of fortitude that sustained both Edith and Cardinal Bernadin. Further, we also need to develop the kind of empathetic understanding that reunites the feelings of the heart and the logical reasons of the head while we embrace the apparent darkness of seeming opposites.


The Spiritís Gift Of Fortitude  

      This Jewish woman, who became an atheist, who converted to Catholicism, and who became a Carmelite Nun (Sr. Teresa Benedicta, O.C.D.)5 and a canonized saint, can be for us a companion and vector pointing the way to holiness in the midst of our own change and uncertainty. The Holy Spirit's gift of fortitude lets us passionately and lovingly seek the truth maintaining a both/and approach to new people and ideas rather than a strict either/or. Fortitude enables us to look at the real good and evil within our own consciousness. It lets us take violence and Kosovo before the Lord in our prayers and   gives us the courage to trust these events in our daily news to the power of Christ's Death and Resurrection. Fortitude is the cement on the ground that lets us walk the good walk. It lets us cope with the everyday, knowing the truth of Edith's statement that, "What did not lie in my plans, lay in God's plans."6


1 Edith Stein (1889-1942) was born in Breslau, Germany, and died in the death Camp of Auschwitz.

2 Canonized in Rome on October 11, 1998.

3 Edith Stein: On the Problem of Empathy, Vol. 3, trans. Waltraut Stein (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications 1989 ).

4 Edmund Husserl: Cartesian Meditations; An Introduction To Phenomenology , trans. Dorion Cairns (The Hague 1960).

5 The Collected Works of Edith Stein vol. 1, Life in A Jewish Family . Josephine Koeppel, OCD (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications 1986)

6 See "A Fragmented Life:Edith Stein" Steven Payne, America, October 10, 1998   pp 11-14.

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