The book of creation tells us
… the sun will rise, even in our darkest hours
The book of creation tells us
… the sun will rise, even in our darkest hours
I have long been haunted by a quote by Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite nun, Jewish daughter and sister, philosopher, one time atheist, convert, contemplative, martyr of Auschwitz .
“Nowadays I always feel transported into Napoleonic times, and I can imagine in what tension people lived then everywhere in Europe. I wonder: will we live to see the events of our days become ‘history’? I have a great desire to see all this sometime in the light of eternity. For one realizes ever more clearly how blind we are toward everything. One marvels at how mistakenly one viewed a lot of things before, and yet the very next moment one commits the blunder again of forming an opinion without having the necessary basis for it.” Edith Stein: A Self-Portrait in Letters, quoted in the People’s Companion to the Breviary.
This quote is included in the office book published by the Carmelites of Indianapolis. It is the reading for Week IV, Friday, evening prayer. The first time I heard this read during community prayer when I was a candidate back in 2005, my heart stopped. I didn’t know much about Edith Stein, except that she had been killed in a concentration camp. But it led me to learn more about her, which only made the quote that much more powerful.
When she was a professor of philosophy she studied the problem of empathy. Writing in 1925–the same year that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was published–she proposed that the capacity for empathy ensures “openness among human beings” rather than separation or alienation. She engaged in her philosophical study of this capacity for empathy because she believed it “to be descriptive of human reality and the foundation needed for productive action” for life in the human community.
Now, on this sad day almost 100 years later, a day which our nation’s present leader has chosen to round up children, women and men–largely of one ethnic group–transporting them to camps, separating families and causing terror to thousands of people, I cannot help but ask for her intercession.
Nowadays, I sometimes feel transported to her times. And it is a scary time to be, one that rocks one’s faith in humanity and causes one to cry out to the heavens. What tension we live in today. Are we complicit? Are we bystanders? Or do we stand on the right side of history, crying out “Not in My Name,” and acting on behalf of human dignity?
And then of course there is today’s Gospel reading, the Good Samaritan, which makes it crystal clear what we are to do. What sad twisted irony that the raids against our immigrant brothers and sisters are set to begin today when this Gospel is proclaimed in churches across our nation. Of course, no doubt, many families are staying away from church today, afraid that they might be swept up, no matter what their legal status. And others listen with deaf ears.
Today, the Carmelite Nuns of Great Britain shared a quote from Edith Stein on their Twitter account in which she reflects on today’s Gospel reading.
“‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This commandment is valid unconditionally and without qualification. The neighbour is not the one whom I ‘like’ but any and every human being with whom I come into contact, without exception.”
Without exception. Unconditional. Without qualification.
When Edith Stein was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 in the chapel of her monastery in the Netherlands and taken to a transit camp for deportation, eventually to Auschwitz, she commented: “I never knew that people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this. … I pray for them every hour. Will God hear my prayers? He will certainly hear them in their distress.”
When she arrived at Auschwitz, she ministered to God’s people in distress, even as she was one among them.
“It was Edith Stein’s complete calm and self-possession that marked her out from the rest of the prisoners. There was a spirit of indescribable misery in the camp; the new prisoners, especially suffered from extreme anxiety. Edith Stein went among the women like an angel, comforting, helping, and consoling them. Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity and had sat moaning for days, without giving any thought to their children. She immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.” –Edith Stein, A Biography, quoted on Carmelites of Boston website.
And so I pray.
St. Edith Stein, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, you who studied empathy, lived a life of compassionate love, pray for us. Inspire empathy, respect for human dignity, and action for justice. Lead those of us who might become bystanders instead to solidarity and compassionate love. Help us to pray for conversion of heart in those who wield their power without enough apparent capacity for empathy or neighborliness. Most of all, be with those who suffer. Comfort the mothers, fathers and children facing inhumanity in these dark times. Pray for us all, that our hearts may become wider, wide enough to encompass all our neighbors, unconditionally and without exception. Amen.
There is so much in the world we do not control. Most of it actually, from whether the sun shines or the rain falls to the political and economic forces that impact our lives to pretty much everything in between.
But my friends we can choose …
We can choose how we choose to act in this crazy mixed up world.
We can choose to smile at a stranger, hug a loved one, or hold that unkind thought without speaking it into the world.
We can choose to add our creative energy to the mix, choose to do what we do best, choose to learn something we don’t know.
We can choose to share and to laugh. We can choose to ask the impertinent questions about unjust structures. We can choose to show up where and when it matters.
Each day, a fresh opportunity to choose to live and to love, no matter how messy it all seems.
What is better than that?
Today’s Gospel from Matthew is certainly timely (Matt 5:38-48).
Go read it.
Love your enemies. Resist evil itself, not evildoers. The way of Jesus is not easy my friends, but it is transformative. It can transform our own hearts, our web of relationships, and our world.
The first reading from Levitivus is also challenging and timely (Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18).
“Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Today’s Gospel tells the story of the syrophoenician woman, whose persistent faith led to the healing of a loved one. I was inspired by the Gospel, and by current events, to create this video reflection praying with persistent Gospel women.
The women speak out and act for healing, for justice, for compassion, and for love.
Grant me justice
Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs
I will be made well.
They have no wine.
May they inspire us, strengthen us, pray for us, be with us.
May be be blamed for persisting as well, for the sake of the Gospel
When I was studying theological ethics at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, one of my main research areas was the ethics and spirituality of Christian nonviolent resistance.
Resistance of course now is a trending hashtag on Twitter. I was invited to share some of my thoughts and research about the urgent need for an ethic of resistance grounded in relationship in a guest blog post for NETWORK Lobby (the folks behind Nuns on the Bus).
Whatever comes next, it is crucial that we develop an ethic of resistance that is grounded in human dignity and right relationship. Otherwise, we face the danger of recreating and repeating negative cycles of violent and dehumanizing language and actions. …
In fact, we would all do well to read up on the history of resistance to social sin. Resistance is not futile, but neither is it easy. The Christian tradition of resistance begins with Jesus, and think of where his path of resistance led. Jesus resisted dehumanizing social norms, created a wide web of relationship, and engaged in liberating action for the oppressed. In the centuries since, Christians have followed in his footsteps and resisted social sin and injustice.