May 22, 2014
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Reading 1: Acts 8:5-8, 14-17;
Responsorial Psalm Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
R. (1) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy;
Reading 2 1 Pt 3:15-18;
Gospel Jn 14:15-21
“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus, who said of himself, “I AM the way, the truth and the life.” What is this truth—and how can we find the truth of our lives? Today, let us allow three Teresas to show us the way to the truth.
Edith Stein (1891-1942), a noted philosopher from the early 20th century spent the first 30 years of her life seeking truth and meaning. She studied all the great thinkers of the ages, and yet, she would say, it was in her 30th year that she found the truth of her life. On a summer evening of 1921, Edith, already a renowned philosopher, picked up an autobiography of the first of the Teresas, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1587) and read this book all night. She recalled, "When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth." Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: "My longing for truth was a single prayer." Her discovery of the truth of her life led her to be baptized on January 1, 1922 and to receive the Holy Spirit in confirmation on the Feast of the Purification of Mary, February 2, 1922. What was the truth that the first Teresa taught Edith Stein? We’ll have to take the own words of the first Teresa as the measure of what was the truth that Teresa of Avila taught: “Come what may, the great thing to embrace is the cross.”
Eleven years after her baptism and confirmation, Edith Stein's entered into the Carmelite Order in Cologne, Germany and took the name of her inspiration, becoming Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. She was indeed to find the ultimate truth of her life in the cross she was to embrace in a most dramatic way. She was soon taken, on New Year’s Eve, 1938 by her superior to Holland, to escape rising Nazi persecution. In1942, in response to statements of the Dutch bishops, condemning the Nazi persecution of Jews, Jewish converts to Christianity were arrested and sent to extermination camps in Germany. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was soon confronted with the truth of the Christian life and her life, that “great thing to embrace, the cross.” On 2 August 1942, while she was in the chapel with the other sisters, the Gestapo arrived and ordered her to surrender herself within five minutes, together with her sister Rosa. Reports from those who were close to Sister Teresa Benedicta in those final days show her to have been a woman of remarkable interior strength, giving courage to her fellow travelers and helping to feed and bathe the little ones when even their mothers had given up hope and were neglecting them. One woman who survived the war has written a description of Stein during the time their group was awaiting transportation to “the East.” “Maybe the best way I can explain it is that she carried so much pain that it hurt to see her smile...In my opinion, she was thinking about the suffering that lay ahead. Not her own suffering — she was far too resigned for that — but the suffering that was in store for the others. Every time I think of her sitting in the barracks, the same picture comes to mind: a Pietà without the Christ.” St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross became like the Blessed Mother, embraced the suffering of Christ in the other Jews that suffered so profoundly at Auschwitz. Although she did not seek death, Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross had often expressed her willingness to offer herself along with the sacrifice of Christ for the sake of her people, the Jews, and also for the sake of their persecutors. This she did, dying in an Auschwitz gas chamber on August 9, 1942, at the age of 50. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was beatified as a martyr on May 1, 1987, in Cologne, Germany, by Pope John Paul II, and canonized by him on October 11, 1998, 336 years after the first Teresa had been canonized.
How can we explain the remarkable actions of this remarkable second Teresa? We can make sense of her life only by the truths contained in today’s gospel, the promise of the powerful indwelling of God that is the Holy Spirit and the effects: Jesus said to his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows him.” In summary, the remarkable actions of Edith Stein, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, were possible only because she guided by the words of St. Teresa of Avila to the Lord Jesus, who filled her, according to his promise, with the Holy Spirit—who is love, strength, and above all, truth.
The very power of God, the HS of truth, gave both Teresas a vision of the truth upon which they based their lives. It was a truth the world could not understand, but for them it was the only comprehensible way to understand the world: Loving others by laying down one’s life for them. Few of us will end up in such harrowing circumstances as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, yet the Christian calling is the same: To love heroically by denying ourselves and laying down our lives for others. In other words, “in the end, the one great thing is the cross.”
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross proves it: This gospel calling is humanly possible, once the HS empowers us—because God literally dwells in us. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
. . . and I will give you the Spirit of truth. . .” The promised Spirit is indeed a spirit of truth, delivering us from the all-too-present confusion of the world and our lives into the peace that comes when we love according to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. The truth: if we lay our lives down for others, we will indeed know the fullness of life. Let us again be renewed by the very presence of God, the Holy Spirit, in the Eucharist we are about to share for this purpose. And with this renewing gift, in each of our lives, we can live lives imbued and directed by truth, the Spirit of truth, promised by Jesus: Let us love heroically—members of our family, friends, coworkers, who may make love difficult—but not when we’re loving with the heroic love of Christ in us, choosing the cross for their sake. Let us act according to what is true—as shown to us by the HS’s gift of wisdom—a truth that, when embraced, sets us free. What is this truth? God desires to dwell in us with the power of the Holy Spirit, to empower us to love heroically, truly, sacrificially.
When are we to love in this way? This is where the third Teresa comes in, the one whose image is in our church, the great St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897): “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest and doing it all for love.” This is St. Therese’s “little way,” reminding us that God’s power, given for us today, is to strengthen us to do small things with great love, the very love of God that is the Holy Spirit. Our calling, each of us, is to follow God’s command to love our neighbor through every small and large gesture of our lives. It is the way we love God—by loving each other. When we pass by the image of St. Therese of Lisieux, let us weekly remember her call is that of all the Teresas: to love others heroically by embracing the self-sacrificial love of the cross daily in small things for others. This is the truth which guided the lives of the three Teresas, saints and great followers of Jesus. The cross: The Truth of their lives and the truth of our lives.
St. Teresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, pray for us!