St.Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Edith Stein, saintly Carmelite, profound philosopher and brilliant writer, had a great influence on the women of her time, and is having a growing influence in the intellectual and philosophical circles of today’s Germany and of the whole world. She is an inspiration to all Christians whose heritage is the Cross, and her life was offered for her own Jewish people in their sufferings and persecutions.

Born on October 12, 1891, of Jewish parents, Siegried Stein and Auguste Courant, in Breslau, Germany, Edith Stein from her earliest years showed a great aptitude for learning, and by the time of the outbreak of World War I, she had studied philology and philosophy at the universities of Breslau and Goettingen.

After the war, she resumed her higher studies at the University of Freiburg and was awarded her doctorate in philosophy Suma Cum Laude. She later became the assistant and collaborator of Professor Husserl, the famous founder of phenomenology, who greatly appreciated her brilliant mind.

In the midst of all her studies, Edith Stein was searching not only for the truth, but for Truth itself and she found both in the Catholic Church, after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. She was baptized on New Year’s Day, 1922.

After her conversion, Edith spent her days teaching, lecturing, writing and translating, and she soon became known as a celebrated philosopher and author, but her own great longing was for the solitude and contemplation of Carmel, in which she could offer herself to God for her people. It was not until the Nazi persecution of the Jews brought her public activities and her influence in the Catholic world to a sudden close that her Benedictine spiritual director gave his approval to her entering the Discalced Carmelie Nuns’ cloistered community at Cologne-Lindenthal on 14 October 1933. The following April, Edith received the Habit of Carmel and the religious name of “Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce,” and on Easter Sunday, 21 April 1935, she made her Profession of Vows.

When the Jewish persecution increased in violence and fanaticism, Sister Teresa Benedicta soon realized the danger that her presence was to the Cologne Carmel, and she asked and received permission to transfer to a foreign monastery. On the night of 31 December 1938, she secretly crossed the border into Holland where she was warmly received in the Carmel of Echt. There she wrote her last work, The Science of the Cross.

Her own Cross was just ahead of her, for the Nazis had invaded neutral Holland, and when the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland. Edith was taken from the Echt Carmel on 2 August 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, the conditions in the box cars being so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on 9 August 1942.

We no longer seek her on earth, but with God Who accepted her sacrifice and will give its fruit to the people for whom she prayed, suffered, and died. In her own words: “One can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.” We can say that in the fullest sense of the word, Sister Teresa was “Benedicta a Cruce” — blessed by the Cross.

Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on 1 May 1987, and canonized her on 11 October 1998.

Carmelite Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War

Blesseds Maria Pilar, Teresa, and Maria Angeles, martyrs of Guadalajara, Spain

Murdered by Communists in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War:  Sr. Maria Pilar of St. Francis Borgia, 58 years old, Sr. Teresa of the Child Jesus, 27, and Sr. Maria of the Angels, 31. 

On July 22, eighteen nuns of the Carmelite monastery in Guadalajara went into hiding in secular dress.  These three martyrs hid in the basement of a hotel.  Two days later, making their way along a street, a woman soldier recognized them as nuns and ordered them to be shot. 

Sr. Maria of the Angels died instantly.  Sr. Maria Pilar, although wounded, cried out:  “Long live Christ the King!”  This infuriated the soldiers, who shot at her and slashed her with a knife.  She died with the words, “My God, pardon them.  They do not know what they are doing.”  Sr. Teresa was led to a nearby cemetery where, after her words “Long live Christ the King!,” she also was shot in the back. 

They were beatified by Saint Pope John Paul II on March 29th, 1987.  Their feast day is observed on July 24th, the day of their martyrdom.

Carmelite Martyrs of the Compiegne

The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne (martyred in 1794)

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.

Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew

As a thirteen-year-old orphan, Anne Garcia Manzanas, of Almendral, Spain, tended her brothers’ sheep.

Devoted to the Passion of Christ, she wanted to consecrate her virginity to God, but feared she would be unable to overcome her brothers’ opposition to her vocation.

As she later related, “I decided one day that if I were to find a man very rich, very handsome, very agreeable, very holy, and who would have helped me in the service of God, that I would have been glad with such companionship.” As she was musing thus, Christ appeared to her and said, “I am the man whom you are seeking.” From that day onward, Anne resolved never to marry. One night, having fallen asleep with her rosary in her hands (which she recited daily), Anne experienced a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary showing her the Discalced Carmelites’ convent in Ávila, and pressing her to become a nun there. Then Christ appeared, seconding his Mother’s words and pulling Anne by her rosary beads. After waking, Anne resolved to become a Carmelite.In 1572 she made her profession as a Carmelite in the hands of St Teresa, at Saint Joseph’s, Avila. The saint later chose her as her companion and nurse, and she subsequently brought the Teresian spirit to France and Belgium, where she proved herself, like Teresa, a daughter of the Church in her great zeal for the salvation of souls.

Blessed Anne was greatly loved by the people of Antwerp and after her death many miracles were attributed to her intercession; by 1632 more than 150 had been noted.

Anne wrote extensively after Teresa’s death, leaving her memories of Teresa containing both biographical details and insights into the spirit which permeated her foundations.  She had the joy of seeing Teresa beatified in 1614 and canonised in 1622. Anne wrote about the foundation and origin of Teresa’s reform in Spain and France, including the Defense of the Teresian Inheritance.  She also wrote her own autobiography, Spiritual Treatises, Conferences and meditations as well as numerous letters of which 665 are still extant.She died at Antwerp in 1626.

Quote

“Silence is precious; by keeping silence and knowing how to listen to God, the soul grows in wisdom and God teaches it what it cannot learn from others.”—Blessed Anne of St. Bartholomew

From the Meditations on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew

“According to Saint Bernard, it is the person who keeps silent and says nothing when things go wrong who is really humble. It is very virtuous, he says, to keep silent when people are talking about our true faults, but more perfect when we are slighted or accused without having committed any fault or sin. And though it is virtuous indeed to bear this in silence, it is more perfect still to want to be despised and thought mad and good-fornothing, and to go on, as our Lord Jesus Christ did, wholeheartedly loving those who despise us.

If Jesus kept silent, it was not because he hated anyone. He was simply saying to his eternal Father what he said on the cross: Lord, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. What infinite love burned in that sacred heart of yours, Lord Jesus! Without uttering a single word you spoke to us; without a word you worked the mysteries you came to accomplish—teaching virtue to the ignorant and blind. What our Lord did was no small thing. Where should we get patience and humility and poverty and the other virtues, and how could we carry each other’s burdens and cross, if Christ had not taught us all this first, and given himself as a living model of all perfection?

Blessed silence! In it you cry out and preach to the whole world by your example. Volumes could be written about your silence, Lord! There is more wisdom to be learned from it by those who love you than from books or study.

Our Lord became a spring of Living water for us, so that we should not die of thirst among all the miseries that surround us. How truly he said in the Gospel that he came to serve and not to be served! What tremendous goodness! Can we fail to be shamed by your words and deeds, and the patience you show with us every day? How truly, again Lord, did you say: Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. Where can we obtain this patience and humbleness of heart? Is there any way to achieve it except by taking it from Christ as he taught it to us with those other virtues we need—faith, hope and charity? Without faith we cannot follow that royal road of the divine mysteries. It is faith that opens our eyes and makes us see the truth; and where faith is wanting there is no light, and no way leading to goodness.”

Carmelite Prayer: 

Father, rewarder of the humble, you blessed your servant Anne of Saint Bartholomew with outstanding charity and patience. May her prayers help us, and her example inspire us, to carry our cross and be faithful in loving you, and others for your sake. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Prayer

O God, who called your handmaid blessed Anne to seek you before all else, grant that, serving you, through her example and intercession, with a pure and humble heart, we may come at last to your eternal glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(from The Roman Missal: Common of Holy Men and Women—For a Nun)