Saints have a way of tapping us on the shoulder. It seems Edith Stein peeps out at me from around every corner as of late. There’s no shortage of her work to be read! She called saints who went before her “spiritual monuments,” but I’m sure she was one herself.
Lately, “The Hidden Life” caught my attention. In it, Stein writes of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She has quite a bit to say about that saint – a rather large essay, or small spiritual text. In any case, most of the information she provide on St. Elizabeth I have never read before. Stein is, as always, a clear and direct writer whose style allows the truth and grace of what she is saying to travel cleanly through her pen and into the readers heart. I never cease to be amazed at her clarity and depth.
In this piece on St. Elizabeth, Stein reflects on why any generation wants to look back at other times. Is it just to relive the good old days, to basque in their warmth and light? Stein doesn’t think so. Rather,
“A generation poor in spirit and thirsting for the spirit looks anywhere that it once flowed abundantly in order to drink of it. And that is a healing impulse. For the spirit is living and does not die.”
The news of late has been filled with tragedy. We’ve had hurricanes and mass shootings, and now fires. Our world is one that deals in science and in facts and for all the good that science has brought us, it can’t bring us to what we really want in the end. It make weather predictions, help some with their psychological and psychiatric difficulties, and even allows us to fight fire on a grand scale. But it hasn’t brought hope.
Science can’t heal the wounds that really ail us. The wounds that hurt us even before we heard the news of this past week, month, year, decade. Those wounds run deep and injure us collectively. We share the cuts, the bruises, and brokenness.
So what’s a thirsty society to do? Drink, of course.
…the spirit is living and does not die. Wherever it was once at work in forming human lives and human structures, it leaves behind not only dead monuments, but leads therein a mysterious existence, like hidden and carefully tended embers that flare up brightly, glow and ignite as soon as a living breath blows on them. The lovingly penetrating gaze of the researcher who traces out the hidden sparks from the monuments of the past – this is the living breath that lets the flame flare up. Receptive strength that helps in mastering and shaping present life. And if it was a holy fire that once burned here on the earth and left behind the traces of its action, then all the places and remains of this action are under holy protection. From the original source of all fire and light, the hidden embers are mysteriously nourished and preserved in order to break out again and again as an inexhaustible, productive source of blessing.
Edith Stein was talking about Elizabeth of Hungary in this particular essay, but Stein is, herself, a monument. Even a cursory glance in her direction and one can’t help but feel the warmth of the small embers smoldering, waiting to be nourished into a flame.
Stein understood the hidden life of souls and their importance to the church. She understood that some of the most important lives in Church history started out themselves as quiet and unknown persons. It’s true of those figures of the Old Testament: what understanding could Noah, Abraham, or David have had of their role in salvation history? This is true of the New Testament figures as well: Mary the Mother of God, Jospeh, John the Baptist. What did they understand of the incarnation before it’s occurrence? And yet, God nurtured them in private to prepare them for what was to come. How could Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, understand ahead of time the light and influence she would have on us, the later generations?
In the year before her death she wrote,
But it is also possible for some of this to become visible in the external world…The deeper a soul is bound to God, the more completely surrendered to grace, the stronger will be its influence on the form of the church. Conversely, the more an era is engulfed in the night of sin and estrangement from God, the more it needs souls united to God. And God does not permit a deficiency…
Thank God for Edith Stein; a light that united herself to God so completely and so thoroughly, that her life is a testament to us today. Thank God for His never-ending mercy, and pray that he nurture and bring forth souls in our own age. Would that our own souls be warmed toward Him!