The Postulator's Story
Father Simeon of the Holy Family, OCD, was for 25 years the "advocate" for the canonization of candidates from the Carmelite Order while serving as Postulator General for the Discalced Carmelites. The 81-year-old Spaniard's eyes still sparkle from behind thick glasses, his face is rosy, his manner sharp and friendly, his glance penetrating. He has no difficulty recalling the long process that will conclude on October II, 1998 with the canonization of Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce.
Father Simeon believes that Edith Stein's canonization ought not to be a cause for discord between Catholics and Jews. He argues that her Christian faith, as profound and sincere as it was, did not turn her against her Jewish roots but, on the contrary, led her to feel more deeply than ever her Jewishness. "Edith Stein once said: 'The Cross is not an end in itself. It stands on high and calls us toward the divine,"' Father Simeon recalled. "Her acceptance of her martyrdom at Auschwitz was animated by the belief that she was there as a Catholic, but also in the name of the Jewish people. That is why I repeat today what I have so often said in the past: Edith Stein never once denied her roots. If there was a martyr of Nazism who experienced all the horror of the Holocaust and the indelible wound inflicted on not only the Jews but on all humanity, it was Edith Stein."
Concerning other words of Stein — which he regrets have been criticized by some Jews — he stresses the distinctiveness of the venerated martyr.
She said: "My return to God made me feel Jewish again." And she recognized her bond with Christ was not only "by faith but by blood."
She felt that her Jewishness deepened her Christian faith, and that her Christian faith deepened her Jewish identity, Father Simeon said.
Thinking back over Sister Teresa Benedicta's journey toward sainthood, Father Simeon says: "I had the privilege of accompanying Edith Stein from the very first stirrings of her beatification process, which began in Cologne in 1962, and included during the 1960s more than 22 investigations throughout the world with testimony from numerous witnesses. At that time, I was working as the librarian for the Teresianum, our educational institute here in Rome, and teaching Library Science. I had forgotten most of my Canon Law" — Father Simeon interjects with a smile — "when, in 1973, our Superior asked me to take over the Office of Postulation. When I began, I came across Edith Stein's cause of canonization among the files on my desk. It took me several years to put together her dossier, with all the details of her 'heroic virtues,' including the many statements of those who had known her.
"The 1983 reform of Canon Law simplified canonization procedures, and helped accelerate the different steps. In January 1986, I had an insight: I decided to submit the cause per viam martyrii, that is on the basis of her heroic martyrdom." (In cases of martyrdom — of persons whose deaths occur as a witness to the faith — the Church does not need to wait for a miracle attributed to the candidate's intercession in order to begin beatification procedures.) "On February 17 of that same year (1986), the Congregation agreed to accept the cause as one of a martyr and thus to waive the requirement for a miracle, and on April 2, I delivered to the Vatican my Positio Super Virtutibus et Super Martyrio (Report Concerning Her Virtues and Concerning Her Martyrdom). The Congregation's consenting decree on the heroism of her virtues and on her martyrdom arrived on January 26, 1987."
At this point, Father Simeon leafs through the Latin decree, searching for the passage describing Edith Stein's death. He reads: "She was captured by the SS on August 2, 1942, and shipped off to the notorious prison camp for deportees, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Arriving on August 9, she was killed that very day."
Closing the books, Father Simeon comments that he was deeply moved by the scene of Edith Stein's death filmed by the Hungarian director Maria Meszaros in 1995. Her film, The Seventh Room, ends with Edith Stein (played by the actress Maja Morgenstern) embracing her sister Rosa, who died with her in the Nazi gas chambers, and then slowly dissolving into light. He finds the fading into light an apt image to convey the saint's faith and eternal life.
Edith Stein's beatification took place in Cologne on May 1, 1987, during a papal trip to Germany. That very year, according to Father Simeon, something unexpected happened. One March evening in 1987, two months before the beatification, on Friday, March 20, a small child in Boston swallowed by accident an entire bottle of powerful medicine she thought was candy.
Teresia Benedicta McCarthy was the 12th and youngest child of Easter Rite Catholic priest Emmanuel Charles McCarthy and his wife, Mary. She was born on August 9, 1984 — the same date that Edith Stein died — and named after the martyred nun. After the poisoning, her liver swelled, more than doubling in size. The diagnosis by doctors in a Boston hospital was that the child had been fatally poisoned and would certainly die without a liver transplant, which was in the circumstances impossible. The devout parents immediately began to pray for Edith Stein's intercession; scores of friends also began praying and calling others around the world to pray for Stein's intercession to save the child. At 2:00 p.m. on March 24, a doctor noted on Teresia Benedicta's record: 'This child has made a remarkable recovery." The recovery that had taken place was rapid, complete and permanent.
It would be 10 years before the painstaking procedures of the Congregation would finally state, by a unanimous vote, that a miracle had occurred. Instrumental in the Congregation's decision was the testimony of a key witness. Dr. Ronald Kleinman, a Jewish doctor who had attended Teresia in the Boston hospital. Before a group of physicians in Rome, gathered by the Congregation, he testified that the child's recovery "was miraculous," even though he himself was dubious about religion and miracles.
Asked why Edith Stein's canonization is important for today's world. Father Simeon again quotes her: "Whoever searches for truth is searching for God, even without realizing it." Then he adds: "That, I believe, is Edith Stein's spiritual legacy. She is an extraordinary figure. This great saint arrived at the fullness of Christian life by passing through the unspeakable suffering inflicted upon her Jewish people and her Jewish family. I think what strikes us most is her complete dedication to the Cross. She totally surrendered herself to the Cross, as had St. John of the Cross. She was proud to be Jewish and embraced death as a sacrifice and ransom for her own people's sufferings.
"Edith Stein realized that only when one assumes one's own Cross can one share in the fullness of Christ's redemption." © Inside the Vatican, Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, 3050 Gap Knob Road, New Hope, KY 40052, 800-789-9494.
© Inside the Vatican, Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Community, 3050 Gap Knob Road, New Hope, KY 40052, 800-789-9494.
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