I just finished reading The Hidden Life by St. Edith Stein. Even though I read slowly, I still felt at times that I set it down too seldom for reflection. Unlike some of her other books, which are more philosophical or theological, this one is an anthology of deeply contemplative writings that have a lot of spiritual food for thought.
It includes a 40-page biography that she wrote about St. Teresa of Avila, which I truly enjoyed reading. I would highly recommend it, especially for anyone who is looking for a short biography of the life of the "Great Teresa".
What struck me most, in reading the last of the compiled writings, was how prepared St. Edith seemed to be for her arrest and death at Auschwitz, at least as prepared as I would think anyone possibly could be. She wrote about the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience of the religious life, and about the cross. When she wrote The Science of the Cross, and when she wrote the short talks published in The Hidden Life, she must have reflected on her own chosen religious name, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, as well as on the great Carmelite saint St. John of the Cross. At times, she applied those thoughts to life in Hitler's Germany and the Netherlands. She clearly thought about the application of those thoughts to herself before she was arrested as a Jewish Carmelite nun.
In her short writing about the life of Marie-Aimée de Jesus of the Paris Carmel on the Avenue de Saxe, she quoted an account of Marie's spiritual state in her last days, relayed by her to another nun, "This soul no longer considers herself superior to others and judges nothing. . . . Indeed she has an unquenchable thirst for suffering and humiliation, but still she wants only what God wants. . . ." I wondered whether she saw herself in that description, the Edith Stein who would have been a superior university student, as compared to the Carmelite she had become, in a time when she had suffered humiliation as a Jew in that era.
Writing "At the Foot of the Cross", she wrote, "The battle between Christ and the Antichrist is not yet over. The followers of Christ have their place in this battle, and their chief weapon is the cross." There, she wrote of voluntary expiatory suffering as not merely a reminder of Christ's suffering, but rather "what truly and really unites one to the Lord intimately".
For the Elevation of the Cross on September 14, 1939, she spoke of the battle with the Antichrist more clearly referencing war, and adding, "If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life."
The following year, for the same feast day, she asked whether their desire for peace came from "a completely purified heart", for the Father's glory, "without any self-seeking", and wrote that they would not be discouraged in admitting that "we are still bunglers and beginners."
She and other non-Aryan members of Dutch religious communities were arrested on August 2, 1942, in reaction to a protest by Dutch bishops. St. Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, probably on August 9, 1942.
The Hidden Life is published by ICS Publications from the Institute of Carmelite Studies.