Becoming a Disciple Week 6: Double Compassion

(Homily for Fifteenth Ordinary Sunday Year C)

Message: St Teresa Blessed by the Cross in her compassion shows what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

If you have been keeping count this is the 6th in our series of homilies on what it means to be a disciple. We've seen that the call to discipleship comes from God: "Young man, I tell you, arise." God calls and we have no excuse for not responding. By responding you will realize your true potential and discover happiness. We saw the example of St. Kateri Tekakwitha - a young woman of much sorrow who nevertheless radiates hope and joy.

St. Kateri is one of our World Youth Day saints. In less than two weeks our parish delegation will depart for that pilgrimage. This weekend I use the example of another World Youth Day saint. Since we have the Gospel of the Good Samaritan you might think the saint would be Maxilimian Kolbe - the Franciscan priest who offered his life in place of a condemned prisoner. He gave a powerful example of self-sacrifice and we will have the opportunity to pray at the starvation bunker where he suffered a slow, painful death.

Instead of Maximilian Kolbe, however, I would like to focus on another saint who died in Auschwitz - Edith Stein. Brought up in a pious Jewish household, as a teenager she abandoned her faith becoming an atheist. An outstanding philosophy student, one evening she came across the Autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila. She spent all night absorbed in the book. When she reached the conclusion, she closed the book and said, "This is the truth." By converting to Catholicism in 1922 she rediscovered her Jewish faith and identity. In Holy Week of 1933, after Hitler had taken control of Germany, she spoke to Christ that "I know it was His Cross that was now being placed on the Jewish people."

The Nazis took away her right to teach and she faced a choice: to flee to America or follow her desire to become a Carmelite sister. Now you might think becoming a cloistered nun is a form of escape. Edith Stein did not see it that way. She wrote her prioress, "Dear Reverend Mother, please permit me to offer myself to the Heart of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement for true peace, that if possible the reign of Antichrist might be broken without another world war..."

Edith Stein, now professed as Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, Sister Teresa Blessed by the Cross, knew something we don't: The greatest good we can do for a suffering person is to offer ourselves in prayer before Jesus. Sister Teresa gave herself to the rhythm of daily prayer and manual labor - tasks like sewing where she was hopeless. The other sisters made gentle fun but they soon realized God had blessed their convent with a gifted teacher and mystic.

You know what comes next. When the Dutch bishops protested Hitler's mistreatment of Jews, the Nazis retaliated by arresting some 243 Catholic Jews in Holland. The SS officers told Sister Teresa she had five minutes to gather her belongings. She did it quickly, then with her Carmelite sisters knelt before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. One of the sisters recounts, "she turned toward us with a red face, but calmly and controlled, saying with a sad voice, 'Bitte, beten Schwestern.' ('Please pray, sisters.')"

The guards also arrested her sister, Rosa - a lay Carmelite. At the moment of departure Teresa was calm; Rosa was white as a sheet. They heard Sister Teresa say, "Rosa, komm, wir gehen fur unser Volk." Rosa, come, we are going for our people.*

Sister Teresa was the Good Samaritan in a double sense: first by offering herself in daily praying and then by offering her life in the Auschwitz gas chamber. In doing so she lived the double commandment of love: God first and then love of neighbor for love of God. That is true, deep compassion.

St Teresa Blessed by the Cross in her compassion shows what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. I need to say one final thing. You might think that by the courage she showed at the end, she never experienced doubt and depression. Not so. From her intimate writings we know she endured terrible anguish and darkness. Like today's Psalm, "I am afflicted and in deep pain." Before she became the Good Samaritan, she was herself beaten, stripped and left half-dead. Maybe you feel more like the man left in the ditch. Well, Edith Stein is the saint for you.

Next week we hear about a saint literally left by the side of the road after being hit by a truck. I am saving the best for the last in this homily series. For today we ask the intercession of St. Teresa Blessed by the Cross: show us the compassion of a true disciple of Jesus. Amen.

************

The Wikipedia article on Edith Stein says:

Along with two hundred and forty-three baptized Jews living in the Netherlands, Stein was arrested by the SS on 2 August 1942. Stein and her sister, Rosa, were imprisoned at the concentration camps of Amersfoort and Westerbork before being deported to Auschwitz. A Dutch official at Westerbork was so impressed by her sense of faith and calm, he offered her an escape plan. Stein vehemently denied his assistance, stating, “If somebody intervened at this point and took away her chance to share in the fate of her brothers and sisters, that would be utter annihilation.” On 7 August 1942, early in the morning, 987 Jews were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was probably on 9 August that Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, her sister, and many more of her people were killed in a mass gas chamber.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Fifteenth Sunday, Year C):

2013: Focus on Mission - Part Two
2010: Go and Do Likewise
2007: The Good Pagan and The Good Samaritan
2004: Oil and Wine Over His Wounds
2001: He Approached the Victim
1998: What Is Compassion?

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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