Sisters in Christ,
This one’s for you. I write to you with a grateful heart, excited to share my two-cents on the beauties of St. Edith Stein’s life and works. I also give this letter to you in humility, for my knowledge and understanding amounts to a grain of sand in the vastness of Edith’s brilliance and witness to femininity. And so yes, we’re going to touch on the feminine genius. But first, who is Edith Stein- who then became St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross?
Born and raised in the Jewish faith, Edith lived circa WWII in Breslau, Germany. Edith did not, however, remain a Jew. Her deep love for religious philosophy led to her conversion to Catholicism in the 1920s; following the steps of St. Therese of Lisieux, she became a Carmelite nun. Her life was a continual consent to sacrifice, which proved her deep love for God. The circumstances of the war and the conflicts of religion were great crosses which led to her martyrdom, however, it was not her heroic acts alone that defined her sainthood, but her ordinary life. It was her conversations, witness, and beautifully-penned essays that paved the way.
Prior to her life as a Carmelite, her success as an educator and phenomenologist is what brought great attention, considering she was a woman. Even her close confidants were not other female educators, but male philosophers, which almost seemed counter-cultural. Yet, all of this mattered none to Edith, for her progressive independence, intellect, success and recognition are not what painted her as a woman. In ink, she penned her belief simply stating, “the world needs not what women have; it needs what women are.”
I’ll bet most Catholic women are familiar with the quote. But do you believe it to be true? Do you believe it in your heart that what you are is something the world not only needs, but yearns for?
It could be argued: “Well yes, the world needs what we (women) are. It needs successful women, who are independent, efficient, intelligent, etc. etc….” and it seems that Edith’s statement is then skewed and thus coming dangerously close to objectifying women. Are we just to be a means, or a way, for the world to go ‘round? Does the world only want our practical contributions?
This is not what she implied, and this is not how we are to understand it.
The heart of the matter is the heart.
A feminine heart is what the world is in dire need of. In an essay, Stein writes, “In womanly purity and gentleness, we find mirrored the spirit which cleanses the defiled and makes pliant the unbending.” (Stein, WOMAN).
CLEANSES the DEFILED, and makes PLIANT the UNBENDING!! A world full of womanly purity and gentleness is a world filled with peace and freedom.What a gift it is that a woman can change the world not with her talents, but with her ability to love! And sisters, we should rejoice in this, because it’s a gift already given to us! “A woman’s soul is fashioned to be a shelter in which other souls may unfold,” (Stein, WOMAN). We are created by the Creator to become living homes in which others can seek refuge. Hopefully, you have experienced what it’s like to be seen, known, and loved by someone. That is what a home feels like. That we can make others feel at home in every encounter is our vocation, and life-giving to the soul. The world needs life, and so life we must give!
Go boldly, and be gentle. Go boldly, and be pure. Go boldly, and let down any walls protecting your heart from being hurt. Go boldly, and take the risk to love your neighbor, even if there is no return. My sister, it is the ferocity of love that sets women ablaze. It is the depth of love that makes room for others to rest in.
You do not need to become many things, or acquire many things; how exhausting. You need only to understand this: what you need in order to grow into the woman you were created to be is already within you. The Good Father delights in the feminine heart, He delights in you, and He needs you.
St. Edith Stein, pray for us!