Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)Virgin and Martyr Edith Stein, born in 1891 in Breslau, Poland, was the youngest child of a large Jewish family. She was an outstanding student and was well versed in philosophy with a particular interest in phenomenology. Eventually she became interested in the Catholic Faith, and in 1922, she was baptized at the Cathedral Church in Cologne, Germany. Eleven years later Edith entered the Cologne Carmel. Because of the ramifications of politics in Germany, Edith, whose name in religion was Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was sent to the Carmel at Echt, Holland. When the Nazis conquered Holland, Teresa was arrested, and, with her sister Rose, was sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. Teresa died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1942 at the age of fifty-one. In 1987, she was beatified in the large outdoor soccer stadium in Cologne by Pope John Paul II. Out of the unspeakable human suffering caused by the Nazis in western Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s, there blossomed the beautiful life of dedication, consecration, prayer, fasting, and penance of Saint Teresa. Even though her life was snuffed out by the satanic evil of genocide, her memory stands as a light undimmed in the midst of evil, darkness, and suffering. She was canonized on October 11, 1998.
Jesus Explains to Saint Thérèse Why All Souls Are Not Created Equal in Grace
An Act of Holocaust as Victim of
God’s Merciful Love
In the choir of virgin-martyrs, who forever sing the praises of the Lamb of God whom they followed unto the very end of sacrifical love, are our Carmelite Nuns of Compiengne, France. The cultural and civil conflicts of their time were centered in the time of the French Revolution which began in July of 1789, with the fall of the Bastille. The new governmental Assembly of anti-religious hostility was the beginning of this great “Reign of Terror” as this time in world history is often referred to.
The community of Carmelite Nuns at Compiegne had been established in 1641, a daughter house of the monastery of Amiens. The community rapidly flourished and was renowned for its fervor and fidelity to the spirit of St. Teresa of Jesus, the Mother of the Discalced Carmelite Order. From its beginnings it enjoyed the affection and esteem of the French court, until the fatal turn of the French Revolution, when they then became, along with all other religious groups, the object of hatred and scorn. The anti-religious views of the new regime was proved by their proclaiming the vows taken by religious as null and void. Despite growing hostility, the nuns of Compiengne continued to live their religious life and refused to abandon their religious habit. Rumors of riots and orgies taking place in Paris continued to reach the nuns, which warned them of the growing and dire situation at hand. Officials of the newly appointed local government visited the Carmelite monastery of Compiengne with the intention of inspecting the monastery grounds and interviewing each of the nuns, while soldiers kept guard outside. The nuns were offered full freedom from the ‘so called vows’ with a suitable pension should they wish to leave the convent. They one and all refused this offer.
Realizing the gravity of this situation in which they were now in, their dynamic and discerning Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, read the signs of the times accurately and was inspired to prepare the community for the supreme sacrifice should the need arise. They then sent in a formal document to the District Directory, stating that they wished to live and die as professed Carmelite nuns. As a community, in Easter of the year 1792, the nuns of Compiengne (numbering 21 at the time) offered themselves to God as a holocaust “to placate the anger of God, so that divine peace brought on earth by His Beloved Son would return to the Church and to the state.”
Hearing of the eviction of many religious from their monasteries, Mother Teresa decided to make preparations for a similar emergency. She rented rooms in friendly houses and paid for them in advance. She also obtained secular outfits for the nuns in case they were obliged to discard their religious dress. These precautions were taken none too soon as on September 12, 1792, local officials systematically searched the house and took whatever valuables they could find. On September 14, the property was confiscated and the nuns forced to adopt secular dress.
With apartments rented in four houses, the community divided into four separate groups, where they did their best to remain faithful to the Carmelite life in the situation in which they found themselves. Secretly they were provided with a new chaplain in the person of Fr. de la Marche, S.J. Dressed in disguise, he would meet the nuns secretly at the parish church and offer Holy Mass for them. The Mass, more than anything else, prepared them for their personal sacrifice in union with the Crucified Savior.
In July of 1794, sixteen nuns of the Community of the Carmel of Compiegne were arrested and brought to Paris in carriages, which proved to be mere carts while the floors were covered with dirty straw. They travelled in discomfort all day and all night on the evening of July 13th which was a Sunday. In Paris the group was imprisoned in the Conciergerie, nick-named the ‘Morge,’ since no one remained there for long. One of the aged nuns of the community, unable to descend from the cart, was roughly handled by attendants and fell heavily to the ground. After lying for some time motionless on the ground she was helped to her feet, her face covered with blood. Turning to the attendants she assured then that she bore them no ill-will and would indeed pray for them. After spending two nights in the Conciergerie, on July 17th, the nuns were brought to trial and condemned to be executed a few hours later. The reason given by the judge was this: “You are to die because you insist on remaining in your convent in spite of the liberty we gave you to abandon all such nonsense.” “We have now heard the true reason for our arrest and condemnation,” one nun spoke out. “It is because of our religious beliefs that we are to die. . . .”
In the interval between their condemnation and execution the nuns asked for a pail of hot water to wash their soiled clothing. They removed their civilian garb and put on their religious habits which was to give witness to their religious profession. With a roll of the drums the cart bearing the condemned nuns to execution emerged from the prison courtyard. As they awaited the guillotine, each Sister knelt before the Prioress and asked her permission to die. They kissed her scapular and a little statue of Our Lady which she held out to each one as they renewed their vows for the last time on earth. Then they began chanting the Laudate Dominun, the Salve Regina, and the Magnificat.
Each of the Sisters, one by one, beginning with the youngest willingly placed themselves on the block of the scaffold, making an offering to God of their lives on behalf of the people and in union with the Sacrifice of Jesus. The Prioress was given the option of being the last to die. After she had encouraged each of her community and received their vows she knelt down and renewed her religious profession in a clear voice and kissed the statue of Our Lady as the others had done. With heroic courage she mounted the scaffold chanting the Salve Regina until her voice was silenced on earth . Then began the eternal canticle in heaven!
Within ten days of the execution of the Carmelites, many of those who had sat in judgement of them and had them condemned to death were themselves brought before a tribunal and sentenced to death. By the end of August the reign of the guillotine had come to an end. Without a doubt it was the victorious offering and martyrdom of the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne which ended this “Reign of Terror.” As Mother Teresa of St. Augustine was wont to say: “Love will always be victorious. The one who loves can do everything.” The feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne is celebrated on July 17th, the day of their martyrdom.
The second of four children, Caterina was born in Florence on the second of April, 1566, to Camilo de’ Pazzi and Maria Buondelmonti. In the comfortable setting of a noble family, that began to call her Lucrezia, after her paternal grandmother, the young girl grew up peacefully and with a certain sensitivity to the aesthetic side of her social condition. Her heart was open to God, and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, in great simplicity, which is something we can see in the way she might share her lunch pack with a needy person, out of compassion, or the way she would help the children of the poor by gently offering them the first truths of faith. Her mother’s deep piety, and the visits to her home by the Jesuit Fathers, that her parents invited regularly, helped to stamp on Caterina’s soul that sense of Church, “sensus ecclesiae,” that in later life would appeal so much to her conscience.
At eight years of age, she was sent as a pupil to the nuns at San Giovannino. The nuns, who noticed the contemplative nature of the child, prepared her for First Holy Communion and not many weeks later, Caterina was sufficiently mature to offer her virginity to God. She was ten years old, and now she didn’t need anymore to get the scent of Jesus, by standing near her mother when she had received Holy Communion, now she began to meditate on the humanity of Jesus. As she was learning to read she came across the Athanasian Creed, and she was very taken by it. In the same way she grew to like the meditations of St. Augustine, and the Lord’s passion by Loarte, whiche she read on the advice of Fr. Andrea Rossi who was her spiritual director.
She had not yet reached the age of seventeen when she showed her desire to be consecrated to God in religious life. Having overcome the initial opposition of her family, she entered the monastery in Borgo San Frediano, to join the Carmelite community of Santa Maria degli Angeli who were very happy to have her. They allowed her to begin as a postulant on the 8th of December, 1582. This community, that was well known to and highly regarded by the bishop of Florence, was attractive to the young girl principally because of the possibility of receiving Holy Communon every day.
Two months after entering, on the 30th of January, 1853, Caterina received the Carmelite habit, and with it, the name, Sr. Maria Maddalena. At the end of the novitiate year it was decided that she would put her profession back until there were other novices ready to join her. Maria Maddalena, however, got very sick in the following months, to the point of almost dying. With little hope of recovery – even the best doctors in the city had failed to diagnose what today we would call pneuomonia – the prioress decided to have her make her profession in danger of death, in articulo mortis.
About one hour after her profession, something happened to Maddalena. It was an experience of rapture in God. The sisters tell us that when they went to visit her in the infirmary, they came upon the young eighteen year old patient, transfigured, and looking very beautiful. From that day onwards, it was the 27th of May, 1584, the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, the Lord visited her every morning for forty days, and revealed the depth of his love to her. These frequent episodes gave rise to many misgivings in the young girl whose only desire was to live in the hiddenness of her life in Carmel, but it was obvious that this kind of grace had to be recognised and preserved. For that reason, the sisters began very soon to take notes, writing down what Maddalena would say while in ecstasy and what she would say, out of obedience, to the prioress and mistress.
Towards the end of that same year a new period of divine favour began for her. This time, Jesus, the “humanified” Word, held her in intense conversation (reported in I Colloqui) that revealed increasingly, the bridal relationship that Christ had formed with her. It was in one of those ecstasies that Christ brought her into his passion and death. It was Holy Week in 1585: her experiences included the stigmata impresssed on her soul, the crown of thorns, the cruifixion, and every scene from the Gospel was acted out as if it was happening live in that slender tormented body. Then, on the Sunday after Easter, she received from her divine Bridegroom the ring of her mystical marriage.
The manuscript titled, Revelazioni e Intelligenze, gives a faithful account of the communication of God’s grace, that in the days between the vigil of Pentecost and the Sunday of the Blessed Trinity, gave Maddalena an entry into the revelation of the inner dimensions of her Trinitarian life. What was communicated to her was what goes on between the divine persons, and how the human person can fulfil a supernatural vocation by allowing this mystery dwelling within to do its work.
The central element in this understanding, is the saving mission of the Word, Love, made flesh in the most pure womb of the Virgin Mary, and the intuition of “dead love” as the highest expression of the ultimate gift of self.
On the last day of this intense octave of Pentecost, Maddalena began to see with some clarity that the moment had arrived when God, as he had made know to her already on a few occasions, was about to take away from her the enjoyment of his presence. That was the beginning of five very difficulty years of torment and temptation, to the point where she felt like as if she had been thrown into the “lions’ den”, and reduced to “nothing”. In these interior trials, described in the Probazione, Jesus continues to support her, but without lessening the radical purification that striped her bare, made her more simple and extremely receptive to his visits. In the heart of the crucible, however, Maddalena also received lights from God concerning the condition of the Church of her time – so slow to implement the renewal sought by the Council of Trent – and she felt that she was being drawn by the Truth to be involved in a practical way in calling to order prelates, cardinals and even the pope, Sixtus V. The twelve letters that she dictated in ecstasy, in the Summer of 1586 are collected in the volume titled, Rinnovamento della Chiesa, The five years of trial restored to us a Maddalena transformed. The Lord had brought her through a divinising process, around which today she could well be considered a master and guide.
After Pentecost 1590, she returned to the normality of ordinary life, something she had always wanted. Apart from just a few, and important, moments of ecstasy (reported in the second part of the Probazione) her days passed quietly as she went about the jobs she had to do (on account of her spiritual maturity she was put in charge of the young sisters in formation), and all the other forms of humble service that she tended to seek. Then the experience of “naked suffering” took hold of her and this would unite her once and for all to the crucified Bridegroom.
The symptoms of tuberculosis began to appear in 1603. As her strength declined, she suffered the added pain of not being able to feel anything of the Lord’s presence. Just her presence in the community, in the eyes of the sisters, had become a vision of God’s work of art about to be completed. On the 25th of May, 1607, at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, Sr. Maria Maddalena, at the age of forty one gave up her spirit.
Quotes of St.Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
“The last thing I ask of you — and I ask it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ — is that you love him alone, that you trust implicitly in him and that you encourage one another continually to suffer for the love of him.”
“Trials are nothing else but the forge that purifies the soul of all its imperfections.”
“You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.”
“I do not desire to die soon, because in Heaven there is no suffering. I desire to live a long time because I yearn to suffer much for the love of my Spouse.”
“Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering, and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.”
Born in the Castile region of Spain, John was sent at the age of 14 to the University of Salamanca to study law. He later moved to Alcala, where he studied philosophy and theology before his ordination as a diocesan priest.
After John’s parents died and left him as their sole heir to a considerable fortune, he distributed his money to the poor. In 1527, he traveled to Seville, hoping to become a missionary in Mexico. The archbishop of that city persuaded him to stay and spread the faith in Andalusia. During nine years of work there, he developed a reputation as an engaging preacher, a perceptive spiritual director, and a wise confessor.
Because John was not afraid to denounce vice in high places, he was investigated by the Inquisition but was cleared in 1533. He later worked in Cordoba and then in Granada, where he organized the University of Baeza, the first of several colleges run by diocesan priests who dedicated themselves to teaching and giving spiritual direction to young people.
He was friends with Saints Francis Borgia, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, John of the Cross, Peter of Alcantara, and Teresa of Avila. John of Avila worked closely with members of the Society of Jesus and helped their growth within Spain and its colonies. John’s mystical writings have been translated into several languages.
He was beatified in 1894, canonized in 1970, and declared a doctor of the Church on October 7, 2012.