Homily: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C
Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was born into an observant Jewish family on October 12th, 1891. By her teenage years, however, she had abandoned the faith of her childhood and was an avowed atheist. Moved by the tragedies of World War I, she took lessons to become a nursing assistant and worked in a hospital for the prevention of disease outbreaks. A year later, after completing her doctoral thesis from the University of Göttingen, she obtained an assistantship at the University of Freiburg.
After reading the works of St. Teresa of Avila, the reformer of the Carmelite order, Edith was drawn to the Catholic Faith and was baptized on January 1st, 1922 into the Roman Catholic Church. At that point she wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite nun, but was dissuaded by her spiritual mentors. She then taught at a Catholic school of education in Speyer. In 1933, the Nazi government began forbidding anyone of Jewish heritage from holding any position of authority in German society, including teachers. As a result, Edith had to quit her teaching position.
Her spiritual mentors being unable to dissuade her any longer, Edith was admitted to the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Cologne the following October. She received the religious habit of the Order as a novice in April 1934 and took the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In 1938 she and her sister Rosa, by then also a convert and a sister of the monastery, were sent to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands to keep them safe from the Nazi occupation. Despite the Nazi invasion of that state in 1940, they remained undisturbed until they were arrested by the Nazis on August 2nd, 1942 and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where they died in the gas chamber just a few days later on August 9th.
I mention St. Teresa Benedicta because she is just one in a long line of saints who demonstrate the truth of what the Letter to the Hebrews speaks to us today: that “faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things unseen.” In early 1920’s Germany Edith Stein had many things going for her; but on a fateful evening in 1921, while spending the night in the home of some friends, she randomly chose St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography to read. She was captivated by her story and spent the whole night reading it. When she finished it, she herself reported that she closed the book and told herself, “This is truth.” From that point on she set her sights on conversion to the Catholic faith and on becoming a Carmelite nun.
Edith Stein was given the gift of Faith. Because of this she could see that there existed a reality beyond the material world which was just as real as any reality that could be measured using scientific methods, and which, for her, was the realization of a far greater promise for happiness than the material world could provide. Thus she immediately desired to begin living according to that reality. And this is what the saints do: once they’ve been given the gift of Faith, they begin to live differently: they live in this world, but not of this world as they await the full realization of the life to come—the life that Faith makes present to them now.
In the Gospel reading, when Jesus encourages his disciples to “sell [their] belongings and give alms” and that they “must be prepared, for at an hour [they] do not expect, the Son of Man will come”, he is encouraging them to live by Faith: that is, as if the promised reality of the kingdom of God was already present; because, in reality, it already was. He uses the parables of the servant whose master is long delayed in returning to illustrate the danger in the temptation to live a worldly life, instead of according to the reality that Faith has revealed: in this case that Jesus, at an unexpected time, will return and that he expects to find his disciples living as if he had never left.
This is very appropriate during this Year of Mercy, because it is by living our lives according to the works of mercy—both the corporal works (feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting prisoners, burying the dead giving alms to the poor) and the spiritual works (counseling the doubtful, instructing the innocent, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead)—that we truly live by Faith: as if the blissful life that we all have hoped for is already real and so there is no need to tie ourselves to this one. The works of mercy express our faith that our comfort does not come in this world, but rather in the world for which we hope and which Faith tells us is already here.
My brothers and sisters, if you are not yet living like this—that is, according to the reality that Faith reveals to us—then perhaps you have not yet fully received the gift of Faith. Don’t worry, however, because it is not something hard to obtain. In fact, you only have to begin to pursue it and oftentimes it will find you: just like it found St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and countless other saints. Once you have received the gift of Faith, then it is time to live according to the reality that Faith reveals: that Jesus will, indeed, return; and that he will reward those whom he finds faithful—both in prayer and in works—by seating them at the great, eternal banquet prepared for them in heaven.
My brothers and sisters, as we enjoy a foretaste of this heavenly banquet here, at this Eucharistic table, let us pray that the gift of Faith will grow within us and thus that we will have the courage to live according to the reality that Faith reveals to us and so build up God’s heavenly kingdom among us.