Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A saint who lived the "spirituality of wounds"

August 9 is the day the Church honors the Jewish convert St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, neé Edith Stein, a Carmelite nun who was martyred at Auschwitz.

When I was newly baptized and proudly Protestant, many Catholics I met prayed for Teresa Benedicta's intercession so that I might know the fullness of the faith in the heart of the Catholic Church. I am grateful to them and to Teresa Benedicta, as their prayers together helped bring me home.

On Good Friday, 1938, while on retreat preparing for her final vows, Sister Teresa Benedicta wrote a poem that she called "JUXTA CRUCEM TECUM STARE." Its title was drawn from a line in the hymn Stabat Mater, "To stand by the Cross with you." In it she beautifully articulates the "spirituality of wounds" in light of Mary's experience of co-suffering with Jesus. It is this spirituality, also known as "co-redemption," that underlies my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

The action of redemption, of course, belongs to Christ; the "co-" refers to the cooperation of the faithful in Our Lord's suffering. That cooperation is expressed most eminently in Our Lady's prayerful presence at Calvary. As her Son permitted His heart to be wounded by a sword, so too Mary willingly received a spiritual sword that pierced her own heart—continuing the "Yes" to God that she gave at the Annunciation. Teresa Benedicta's poem shows how deeply this spirituality of wounds is tied in with the mystery of spiritual motherhood.

This translation of the saint's reflection is from a book I found at the Lafayette Carmelites' bookstore, Edith Stein: A Victim of the Shoah, by Waltraud Herbstrith:


Today I stood with you beneath the cross,
And understood more clearly than before.
How it was here
That you became our mother.
Even an earthly mother tries, as best she can,
To carry out her own son's final wishes.
How much more you,
The handmaid of the Lord,
You in whose life and being were inscribed
The life and being of God's incarnate Son.
You took to heart all those who were your own,
You purchased with heart's blood and bitter pains
New life for every soul.
Knowing us through and through the wounds, the shame,
The light of glory too, the radiance
In which your Son would bathe us,
You keep us in your care,
And think no price too high
If only it will bring us to our goal.
As for the ones who form your escort,
Chosen to one day gather at your throne:
They too must stand with you beneath the cross,
Purchasing with their heart's blood and their pains
Heavenly glory for the precious souls
Which God has given them as their inheritance.

Illustration of Saint Teresa Benedicta by Sister Marie-Celeste Fadden, O.C.D. Photograph of window from Georgetown University's Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart by Frank Miller.

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