Edith Stein and the way to our hearts’ peripheries

In 1922, Edith Stein read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila through the night. The spiritual account rocked her world, and led her to the peripheries of her own heart.

And there, in the avoidance of religious truth and its call to love and mercy, Edith found peace and consolation — a peace that would sustain her all the way to Auschwitz.

As Pope Francis calls believers to the peripheries, he has stressed that such places of obscurity are not only geographical locations.

While the pope avoids any misplaced hyper-spiritualization of the actual physical fringes of society, he does comfortably broaden the term to include an existential dimension.

And so, the peripheries are not only localities in the world, but can also be dimensions within the human heart.

This reality is exemplified in the life, conversion, and martyrdom of the great St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, whose birth name was Edith Stein.

The Catholic Church celebrated the saint’s feast day this past week. The holy day was an occasion to recount Edith Stein’s story, and to be inspired by her witness to truth and charity.

Edith was born into a large Jewish family in 1891. When she was a young child, her father died and her mother refused to re-marry.

Instead, her mother worked as a single parent, which was uncommon at the time, and provided for the family through unrelenting determination and hard work.

This example of independence and tenacity greatly influenced Edith throughout her life.

Edith was very attentive to her studies, and was regularly noted for her brilliance.

As a young woman, Edith could not intellectually find reasons to believe in God, and such beliefs became a periphery in her heart.

She became an ardent atheist but studied philosophy because she wanted to understand the mysteries and intrigue of life.

During World War I, Edith served as a nurse and this experience led her to deeper reflections on sacrifice, suffering, misery, and hope. Continue reading


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