Rorate Caeli

Ad orientem
Saint Benedicta: the Cross and the Sacrifice are in the East.

August 9, 1942, the eve of Saint Lawrence, the celebrated martyr of the Church of Rome, is generally considered the last day of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on this earth. 70 years ago, she and Rosa, her sister, who days earlier had boarded in the transit camp of Westerbork (Netherlands under German occupation) the train destined to the General Government area of occupied Poland, would be killed, along with an unknown number of other prisoners, and all trace of their physical existence would vanish.

The Cross had been her concern and her love even before she chose to enter the Church. Expiation, suffering, surrendering oneself completely, being ravaged by the world: death. Her cross expected her in the East. Hatred, brutality, and evil may have destroyed her body, but her soul was embraced by the Redeemer.

The keepers that go about the city found me: they struck me: and wounded me: the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him that I languish with love. What manner of one is thy beloved of the beloved, O thou most beautiful among women? what manner of one is thy beloved of the beloved, that thou hast so adjured us? ... such is my beloved, and he is my friend, O ye daughters of Jerusalem. (Cant. v)

Lord: Thy head is like Carmel: and the hairs of thy head as the purple of the king bound in the channels. (Cant. vii, 5)

Germany is a beautiful country. And though Germans, for some reason, tend these days to abandon their nation in droves in the warm weeks of August, it hardly looks more majestic than in the summer. A true festival of shades of green, dramatic valleys and forests, and hills that are brighter than ever, reflecting the bright sunlight of the season.

Wrocław (Breslau) in August
Germany was the homeland of Saint Benedicta. It was in the then very German city of Breslau (now in Poland) that Sr. Benedicta had been born, as Edith Stein, in October 1891. For the first time in many years, on August 6-7, 1942, she reentered Germany. Was she allowed to take the only volume of the beloved breviary she still had with her, her major consolation in those days? Was she able to see, in the trains that left the transit camp of Westerbork the green fields and intensely colorful skies and rivers of August? Was she able at least to stay in the same car as her sister Rosa? Were they able to strengthen each other through their last journey? 

From west to east, they crossed their Germany - because it was their Germany, too. They even crossed their Silesia, always going eastwards. Deported to the east: could they guess what their destination would be? Was Sr. Benedicta aware of exactly where she was being sent? Was she aware that the martyred Polish lands under German occupation would witness her own death?

From the "Testament" of Sr. Benedicta:

From this moment, I accept the death that God has prepared for me, fully and joyfully submitting myself to his most holy will. I pray the Lord that he will accept my life and my death, in his honor and glory, for all the intentions of the Most Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and of the Holy Church; in particular, for the preservation, sanctification, and perfection of our holy Order, above all of the Carmels of Cologne and Echt, in expiation for the unbelief of the Jewish people, and so that the Lord may be welcomed by his own, and that his Kingdom will come in Glory, for the salvation of Germany and for peace in the world, and, at last, for my relatives, living and deceased, and for all those God has given to me: let not one of them be lost.

Friday in the Octave of Corpus Christi, June 9, 1939, seventh day of my spiritual exercises.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.

Sr. Teresa Benedicta a Cruce O.C.D.

Of one thing we can be certain: she had already accepted the death that one day we will all face. She accepted it, because she knew Redemption was at hand: for Catholics, "hope springs eternal" (Pope) because hope comes from the Cross.

Written soon after the beginning of the war (usually published among her autobiographical writings):

The world is on fire; the struggle between Christ and the Antichrist is now fully in place. If you decide [to fight] for Christ, this may cost you your life; therefore, consider your promises very well. ...

The Savior hangs from the Cross, right before you, for his obedience unto death, and death on the Cross. He came to the world not to do his will, but the will of the Father. ...

Your Savior hangs before you with a wounded heart. He gave the Blood of his own heart in order to have your heart. If you wish to follow him in holy purity, then your heart has to be free from all earthly desire, and Jesus, the Crucified, must be the only object of your wishes, of your desires, and of your thoughts. ... The arms of the Crucified one are open to attract you towards his heart. He wants to take your life in order to offer you his life. Ave Crux, spes unica!

The world is on fire. The fire can also affect our own house; but high above us, above all flames, the Cross will stand upright. The flames cannot destroy it. It is the path from earth to heaven, and whoever embraces it, believing, loving, hoping, moves upward towards the very bosom of the Trinity.

[W]ith the strength of the Cross, you can be in all fronts, in all places where there is affliction. Your merciful love, the love of the divine heart, will take you to all places in which his precious blood flows, soothing, sanctifying, saving.

The eyes of the Crucified stare at you, pensive, questioning. Do you wish to once again establish your covenant with the Crucified one? What will you say to him? 'Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou only hast the words of eternal life.'

Ave Crux, spes unica!!

September 14, 1939

Saint Benedicta, Co-patroness of Europe, pray for us.


New Catholic said...

Recess for several days.

Please, send any relevant news item to newcatholic AT gmail DOT com.

Thank you,


NIANTIC said...

Thank you, NC, for this most beautiful post. What tremendous faith and love this great Saint had. Thank you again for making her present and known to us readers.
Saint Benedicta, pray for us, for the Church, for the world and for the conversion of the Jewish people out of whom you rose like a star.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of a good book about her or her spiritual writings ? Much of what she said - especially about the conversion of the Jewish people would have been cut out of modern books,I suppose. Isn't she supposed to have spent all night studying a copy of the Roman Missal and the next day was found to be with a full grasp of the Catholic faith ? A wonderful saint and this incident, if I have it correctly shows the graces transmitted through the Sacred Liturgy. Alan Robinson

newguy40 said...

A very powerful and prescient message. It rings more true today than ever before. It's good to have these reminders and I thank you for them.

Matt said...

Pray God we are all ready and willing to embrace the Cross when our time comes, whatever moment that may be.

Barbara said...

@ Aòam Robinson - well maybe she had read that too (the Roman Missal) but I recall reading that it was the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila that she had spent the night reading - apparently when she closed the book in the morning she said "This is the truth." or words to that effect - and then she became Catholic.

She's one of my favourites - marvellous - a shining example for all women and obviously nuns in particular (I'm thinking of some of the modern ones without habits etc., - what a shame!) -

Intercede for them (and us) Santa Teresa!

Catherine of Siena said...

Saint Teresa Benedicta loved her people, the Jews, with every fiber of her being. In her honor, we should all do the same. The book she read that sparked her conversion was the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila - another Catholic woman whose Jewish roots gave her great spiritual and intellectual gifts.

Roberto said...

@ Robinson

it was the autobiography of St. Therese of Avila.