Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

Lectionary: 414

In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”

Today we celebrate the memorial of Edith Stein, a doctor of philosophy, a convert from Judaism to Catholicism, a Carmelite nun and a martyr of the Nazi terror. Entering the convent she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She honored the name in life with her reflections and writings about the cross; and, in death, by her imitation of Christ. She was taken from her Carmelite monastery because of her Jewish origins and murdered. 

Nazism represents many things to the world today; it is a story and a mystery that arouses universal horror. We wonder how could human beings do this to their fellow women and men. We wonder how could so many people agree to do this thing. Did anyone claim the idea or did everyone simply go along with someone else's initiative?

At least part of the story is our meek acceptance of theories about human life. Scientists study "politics" and "economics" as if these "systems" are somehow predictable. There are few natural "machines" in the universe beyond the solar system and ocean currents, and yet they suppose their sciences can predict how money will flow and ideas will spread. Humans building machines and fascinated by their motions think we can apply the metaphor of mechanics to human life.

Nazism apparently intended to better the human species by thinning the herd of certain undesirable traits such as Jewishness, dwarfism, and disabilities, both mental and physical. They arbitrarily added gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholic priests and religious to the condemned. The model was scientific genetics, a study so new it had not yet discovered the functioning of  DNA. Even as they built and operated death factories, pseudo-scientists were trying to shore up their theory of why that was a good idea. In other words, human beings could be managed like an industrial farm that is plowed, fertilized, seeded and treated with herbicides to produce a monoculture of "Aryan" people.

The model was mechanical systems; and science justified the operation. If some valuable people were destroyed in the process, they supposed, there's always waste in any efficient system.

In today's reading, Jesus answers the question about who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God -- i.e. the most valuable -- by placing a child in front of his disciples. Then he said with great authority,
Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Clearly Jesus' teaching about efficiency and economy is radically different from that which governs our systems today. Gardeners routinely plant a handful of seeds intending to thin out the line of young plants that springs up there. Farmers prune their trees to produce better fruit on selected branches. Only the fittest survive the cut. Young plants and baby animals are expendable.

Efficiency works well for industry. It doesn't serve us as well in caring for human beings. And yet we're tempted to triage when we plan for the future with limited resources and tight budgets. We dare not expect industry or citizens to make sacrifices, much less to feed five thousand people with a couple loaves of bread and two fish. Edith Stein did not fit the planners' visions of the future; she was expendable, despite her brilliant mind and generous heart. 

World War II shocked us into realizing how demented our thinking had become. Mechanized industry and mechanized war wasted millions of human beings in a vain search for security, prosperity and peace.

As the two world wars recede into our past, we must remember Saint Theresa Benedicta of the Cross and her people if we would attain the Kingdom of God. We must make inefficient sacrifices and uneconomical decisions for the least among 

1 comment:

  1. Love this reflection. The last sentence echos the Holy Father's call for mercy. We are such a long way from being inefficient and generous toward the least among us.


I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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