I am weak and sinful. (Aren't we all? The key is recognizing this in ourselves and not just others.) I pray. I don't pray well, nor do I pray often enough. But I pray.
I have been praying for persecuted Christians everywhere. I see pictures in my head of the Syrian children clinging to life in tiny boats, and one small body washed up on the shore. I hear the screams of terror from the slain Sisters of Charity. I weep for those who've lost loved ones in the violence that pervades our own society. I pray for peace and understanding.
God always takes our prayers seriously. I know this, not only because of my own experience, but the experience of the many, many souls who have come before me. One of them is St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.
She was born Edith Stein, a German Jew. She was exceptionally bright, going on to study the philosophical field of phenomenolgy. (Look it up. It's tough stuff.) As a woman and a Jew in the early 20th century, she could not find a teaching position at the university level.
She also was a convert to Catholicism. Her intellect guided her: she was seeking Truth and nothing but. She also longed to join the Carmelite order, but her conversion was very difficult on her mother, a devout Jew. Edith's spiritual director told her to delay her entrance into the monastery for the sake of her mother.
As Edith's spiritual life was deepening, her nation was collapsing. Hitler became the leader of a Germany that was coming undone. She taught for awhile at a girls' school, and then eventually entered her beloved Carmel.
In 1930, Stein wrote of her foreboding sense of divine mission. “After every encounter in which I am made aware how powerless we are to exercise direct influence, I have a deeper sense of the urgency of my own Holocaustum.”
Stein’s use of the word Holocaustum in 1930 was radical. What did she imagine was the urgency of her “own Holocaustum”? She literally saw herself as offering her life as a sacrifice, but a sacrifice to what, and why? Was she a mystic who saw the end of German Jews? Stein first wrote about the meaning of her future death in her last will and testament, composed on June 9, 1939: I pray to the Lord that he may accept my living and dying ... as an atonement for the Jewish people’s unbelief and so that the Lord may be accepted by his own and that his reign may come in glory, that Germany may be saved and that there be peace in the world.As I said, be careful what you pray for. Stein was wholly aware that she would die at the hands of the Nazis, but wanted to offer herself up as atonement.
I won't get into all the theology of this idea of atonement, especially in Jewish thought. However, die she did, along with her sister, in Auschwitz.
Back to my prayers for persecuted Christians. I am no saint, although I aspire to sainthood. God has gifted me with some suffering to bring a bit more "bang to my buck" when it comes to these prayers. I have cysts on my spine that are causing me a great deal of pain. I have been referred to a state university neurosurgery center for treatment of these rare cysts, known as Tarlov cysts.
I consider Edith Stein to be a close friend, a sister in Christ. I beg her intercession for my health, but I also follow her lead in offering up suffering for those around me. Be careful what you pray for.