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How St Teresa Benedicta reconciled with her devout Jewish mother

Faith is an extraordinary gift. Cradle Catholics can take it for granted in a way that converts never do. But why does God give the gift to some and not to others? God is God and the ultimate mysteries of the human heart are known only to him. Meanwhile, we ponder the gift in all its supernatural beauty and generosity – and continue to pray for our friends who have not (yet) received it.

These musings are occasioned by reading The Scholar and the Cross: The Life and Work of Edith Stein by Hilda Graef, kindly lent to me by the Oblate Master at Pluscarden Abbey. It was first published in 1955 and is still a penetrating and sympathetic biography of the woman now known as St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Stein’s life is generally well-known: born in Breslau on 12 October 1891 (the Jewish Day of Atonement that year), the youngest of seven children in an observant Jewish household, her father died when she was two and her mother, the epitome of a noble Old Testament woman and matriarch, deeply devoted to her Jewish faith, whose “religion was her greatest treasure”, raised her children and ran her late husband’s timber business single-handed. Stein, a brilliant student, drawn to philosophy, rejected religious belief between her 13th and 21st year. She had too much integrity to pay lip service to what her critical intellect had dismissed.

Nonetheless, moving in academic philosophic circles, she was struck by the faith of Christian friends and surprised that “one can be a philosopher of rank and a believing Christian at the same time.” Her spiritual search culminated over the summer of 1921 when, staying at the house of a friend, Hedwig Conrad-Martius, she happened to read the classic Autobiography of St Teresa of Avila. Having finished it in one night, she said “This is the Truth.” Her intellect could no longer withstand the Spanish mystic’s vigorous description of her friendship with Christ.

Read more at Catholic Herald. 

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