SAINT EDITH STEIN
II. Queen Esther and the Carmel
For December 7, 1940, Feast of St Ambrose:
(Hear Augustine, Confessions IX, and Ambrose, Deus Creator Omnium)
mbrose (kneeling in his room before the opened Holy Scriptures):
the last one
is gone. I thank you, O Lord,
For this quiet hour in the night.
You know how much I like to serve your flock;
I want to be a good shepherd to your lambs,
That's why this door is open day and night,
And anyone can enter unannounced.
Oh, how much suffering and bitter need is brought in here
The burden becomes almost too great for this father's heart.
But you, my God, you surely know our weakness
And at the right time remove the yoke from our shoulders.
You give me rest, and from this book,
The holy book, you speak to me
And pour new strength into my soul.
(He opens it, makes a great sign of the cross, and begins to read silently.)
(appears in the door and
remains standing, hesitant):
He is alone. I could go to him
And let him know the struggles of my heart.
But he is speaking with his God,
Seeking rest and refreshment in the Scriptures
After a long day's work and care.
Oh no, I'll not disturb him.
I'll kneel down a little here;
Then I'll surely take something of his peace with me.
What was that? Didn't I hear a rustling at the door?
(He gets up.)
Come closer, friend, you who come at night.
In the dark I cannot see who you are.
(He goes to the door with the lamp.)
Is it possible? Augustine? Peace be with you!
You dear, infrequent guest, please do come in.
(He takes him by the hand, leads him in, shows him a seat, and sits down facing him.)
Oh, how your goodness shames me, holy man!
I really have not earned such a welcome.
Don't you remember how happily I greeted you
When you stood here before me for the first time?
You, the star of oratory
That stirred Carthage to amazement,
That did not even find its match in Rome,
I was happy to see
Within the confines of my Milan.
Oh, if you had only seen into my heart!
I wasn't worthy to be seen by you.
I saw you often when I spoke to the people.
Your burning eye hung on my lips.
Your mouth overflowed with heavenly wisdom.
But I was not interested in wisdom.
I did not come for wisdom.
I only heard how you put together the words;
Only an orator's magic power attracted me.
That, what you spoke Christ's holy doctrine
I wasn't eager to know, it seemed like vanity to me,
Already refuted by my teachers long ago.
But while I listened to the words alone,
I was drawn I hardly noticed it into the meaning.
One word of Scripture oft repeated
Deeply affected me and gave me much to think about:
"The letter deadens," you said, "The spirit gives life."
When the Manichæans laughed over the Word of Christ,
Was not this because those fools
Only understood what they were reading literally,
While the spirit remained sealed to them?
But the Holy Spirit's ray fell on you.
Thank him who freed you from error's chains,
And thank her, too, who interceded for you.
O Augustine, thank God for your mother.
She is your angel before the eternal throne;
Her commerce is in heaven, and her petitions
Fall, like steady drops, heavily into the bowl
Yes, I surely know what would I have become without her?
Oh, how many hot tears did I cost her,
I, her unfaithful son, who really don't deserve it!
Therefore, she now weeps sweet tears of joy,
And she is richly rewarded for all her suffering.
She already wept tears of joy when she perceived
That I had escaped the Manichæan net.
I was still deep in night, tormented by doubts.
But she assured me optimistically
That the day of peace was now no longer far away.
While still alive, she was to see me entirely safe.
The Lord himself probably gave her certainty.
Her firm faith did not mislead her.
But I still had a long way to go.
My teaching post had become unbearable for me.
The frivolous game of the orator's art rankled me.
I sought truth, and I no longer desired to waste
The spirit of my youth in colorful pretense.
From Milan I fled into isolation.
My spirit brooded in unrest.
I waited here for you how much I wanted
With God's help to guide you to the harbor!
Oh, how often I stood here on this threshold!
You did not see. There came crowds of people
Who sought help from the good shepherd.
I looked on for a little while and then silently went away.
At times I also came upon you alone, like today,
Immersed in the study of your beloved books.
Then I did not risk shortening your meager rest.
I knelt here a little near you
And discreetly slipped away. Today, too,
It would have happened thus if you had not discovered me.
Thank my angel who led my eye to you.
But tell me now what brought you here.
I already wrote you that God's ray lit on me.
Before my eyes stood all the misery of my life.
It choked me, clamped my chest,
I could no longer breathe at home
And fled out into the open.
In the garden I sought a quiet place,
Fled into the presence of the faithful friend himself.
Finally, a stream of tears burst forth.
Then from a neighbor's house there urged itself on me
A child's voice singing clearly.
I heard the words, "Take and read."
Again and again it rang in my ears
As children endlessly repeat.
But to me it comes from another world:
It is the call of the Lord! I leap up
And rush to Alypius who is still sitting and thinking.
The book lies beside him where I was reading it.
I open it. There stands for me the instruction;
I found it clear in the Apostle's word:
"Give up feasting and carousing at last,
Arise from the bed of soft sensory lust.
Renounce all the contention of frivolous ambition.
Look instead at Jesus Christ, the Lord."
Then the night receded, and day began
I took to the road in the presence of the Lord,
My friend Alypius hand in hand with me.
Thank God, who had mercy on you!
How wonderful are your ways, Lord!
I wrote to you and asked for your advice.
You recommended to me a good teacher.
In the prophecy of Isaiah I found
The servant of God, the lamb, that suffered for us.
And things grew brighter and brighter in my eyes.
We did not rush, yet let us now speak to you
In longing and in humility:
Lead us to the baptismal font and wash us clean.
Oh, bless you, my beloved son!
There is no one whom I have led with greater joy
To the holy bath that gives new life.
Come soon and bring me your faithful friend.
There is yet a third person whom we are leading to you:
Adeodatus, my beloved child.
No doubt a child of sin through my fault;
But now the child of grace through God's goodness.
He is a youth, almost still a boy in years,
But with more wisdom than his father.
He brings the Lord an undefiled heart,
And it is pure hearts who see God.
So soon a thrice-blessed day will beam for us.
O Augustine, don't look back into the dark anymore.
Before me now radiant lies your path.
The light that God ignited in your heart,
Will shine brightly into the farthest times,
The whole church will be filled with it.
And countless hearts will be inflamed
By the love consuming your great heart.
Oh look with me up to the throne
Of the thrice Holy One!
Don't you hear the choir of holy spirits?
They sing their holy songs of praise
Full of thanks in inexpressibly great joy,
Because the lost son has found his way to the Father.
(Both stand listening; then Ambrose intones:)
the second half-verse, then alternately together with the invisible
When I found this
on the Web I was
not yet Catholic, nor Edith Stein yet canonized. So moved was I by it
it in turn became like that book Augustine let drop at his conversion
Catholicism. We sang less Ambrose's Te Deum than we did
Kindly Light in Italian in our tiny Chapel ablaze with light at
at my Crismation, 2 February 1998.
This next Dialogue also so deeply
moved me that, though I tried to excise it, I found I could not.
not today, Edith Stein's Feast Day. Compare it with Francesca
The Madonna and the Gypsy and with St John
of the Cross .
CONVERSATION AT NIGHT
For 9 August, Feast of St Teresa
Benedicta of the Cross
night in her cell, having fallen asleep while writing; awakens with a
he pen fell from my tired hand.
So much I still intended to do today.
Yet midnight is near and nature
Demands her due and won't be pressured.
I'll try to finish just this one letter.
(Writes a little; her head again sinks onto the table two clangs of the bell she jumps up):
The turn now in the middle of the night?
Now there's a rapping at the door it's opening. My Jesus, help!
A womanly form (enters, dressed
like a pilgrim;
Peace be with you!
Oh, don't be afraid! What's approaching you at night
Is a supplicant who has no other weapons
Than raised hands.
Oh, so speak!
I'll gladly do whatever you ask
If it's within my power. The fear has vanished.
Your word is mild and your expression peaceful.
It seems to me to be coming from eternity,
And it arouses a longing for heaven in my heart.
So come and rest. You've surely traveled a long way.
(Points her to a seat.)
Thank you for your goodness. Yes, I have traveled far
From land to land and from door to door.
I am seeking lodgings.
Looking for lodgings? How the word touches me!
I am reminded of that pure one, the Immaculate,
Who once about this time also sought lodgings .
Oh tell me! Are you she herself, the Virgin Mother?
(raises her up):
I am not she but I know her very well,
And it is my joy to serve her.
I am of her people, her blood,
And once I risked my life for this people.
You recall her when you hear my name.
My life serves as a image of hers for you.
A riddle, unusually hard to understand
How am I to grasp it?
You are a woman whom we recognize as an "example"?
You staked your life for your people?
And you certainly had no weapon, either, then,
Except those hands raised in supplication?
So are you Esther, then, the queen?
That is what people called me. You know my fate.
As much as is in the holy books.
It always touched me: As a tender child
You lost your father and your mother.
The good uncle was father to me and mother.
But no he led me to the real Father,
The Father of all of us high in heaven.
My uncle's heart burned hot with passion,
In holy ardor for God and for his people.
He raised me for them. So I grew up
Far from home and yet protected
As in the temple's quiet sanctuary.
I read the holy Scriptures of these people,
Who were now enslaved in a strange land,
And fervently implored that a savior come to them.
Like our dear Lady, and also like her,
Suddenly an unforeseen fate befell you.
The king's messengers traveled throughout the land
To look for the most beautiful bride for the king.
I was called to the palace before I knew it.
The eye of the Lord fell on the poor maidservant.
When I read of it in the Book of Books,
My heart became so heavy that it seemed to me
I saw your soul full of deep pain
And unshed tears.
It was hard indeed.
Yet it was God's will, and I remained
The poor maidservant of the Lord at the king's palace.
My faithful uncle followed after me.
He often came to the palace's door and brought news
Of our people's needs and danger.
So there came the day when I approached the king
To plead for rescue from the deadly enemy.
Life or death hung on his gaze.
I leaned on the shoulders of my maid.
But I was not alarmed before my husband's wrath.
The eye that met mine was entirely friendly.
In full favor, he handed me the scepter.
Then my spirit was borne out of time and place.
High in the clouds there was another throne,
On which there sits the Lord of Lords, before whom pales
The earthly lord's vain glory.
He himself, the Eternal, bowed down
And promised me the salvation of my people.
I sank down before the throne of the Highest as though dead.
I found myself again in the arms of my husband.
He addressed me lovingly and said that any wish
Whatever it might be he would grant to me.
This is how the highest Lord freed his people
Through Esther, his maidservant, from the hands of Haman.
And today another Haman
Has sworn to annihilate them in bitter hate.
Is this in fact why Esther has returned?
You're the one who says so
Yes, I am traveling through the world
To plead for lodgings for the homeless,
The people so scattered and trampled
That still cannot die.
Don't you die as other people die?
Were you carried off like Elijah
Who, as people say, also wanders as a pilgrim?
I died a human death, was buried
With royal pomp; but an angel accompanied
My soul, its guardian,
To the place of peace; it found its rest
in Abraham's bosom with its ancestors.
In the bosom of Abraham like Lazarus?
Like all who faithfully have served the Lord
As their ancestors did. We waited there in peace,
Still far from the light, so always in longing.
But there came a day when, through all of creation,
There occurred a fissure. All the elements seemed
To be in revolt, night enveloped
The world at noon. But in the midst of the night
There stood, as if illumined by lightning, a barren mountain,
And on the mountain a cross on which someone hung
Bleeding from a thousand wounds; a thirst came over us
To drink ourselves well from this fountain of wounds.
The cross vanished into night, yet our night
Was suddenly penetrated by a new light,
Of which we had never had any idea: a sweet, blessed light.
It streamed from the wounds of that man
Who had just died on the cross; now he stood
In our midst. He himself was the light,
The eternal light, that we had longed for from of old,
The Father's reflection and the salvation of the people.
He spread his arms wide and spoke
With a voice full of heavenly timbre:
Come to me all you who have faithfully served
The Father and lived in hope
Of the redeemer; see, he is with you,
He fetches you home to his Father's kingdom.
What happened then, there are no words to describe.
All of us who had awaited blessedness,
We were now at our goal in the heart of Jesus.
That's enough, or my heart will break
In longing for such great blessedness.
But no speak further, speak of the homeland!
Now in the mirror of eternal clarity, I saw
What happened after that on earth.
I saw the church grow out of my people,
A tenderly blooming sprig, saw that her heart was
The unblemished, pure, shoot of David.
I saw flowing down from Jesus' heart
The fullness of grace into the Virgin's heart.
From there it flows to the members as the stream of life.
And again there came a day when she the Blessed One
Was borne on high by a choir of angels
Up to the throne of the Almighty.
Her head was adorned with a crown of stars
And like the sun she was bathed in heavenly light.
But now I knew that I was bound to her
From eternity in accordance with God's direction forever.
My life was only a beam of hers.
And you left this blessed light
To tread the paths of earth again?
That is her will, and mine as well.
The church had blossomed, but the masses
Of the people remained distant, far from the Lord
And his mother, enemies of the cross.
The people are in confusion and cannot find rest,
An object of disdain and scorn:
It will be thus until the final battle.
But before the cross appears again in heaven,
Even before Elijah comes to gather his own,
The good Shepherd goes silently through the lands.
Now and then he gathers from the depths of the abyss
A little lamb, shelters it at his heart.
And then others always follow him.
But there above at the throne of grace
The Mother ceaselessly pleads for her people.
She seeks souls to help her pray.
Then only when Israel has found the Lord,
Only then when he has received his own,
Will he come in manifest glory.
And we must pray for this second coming.
Like once the first I understand exactly.
You were the pathfinder for the first coming.
Now you are clearing the way to the kingdom of glory.
You came to me do I now understand the message?
The Queen of Carmel sent you.
Where else was she to find hearts prepared
If not in her quiet sanctuary?
Her people, which are yours: your Israel,
I'll take it up into the lodgings of my heart.
Praying secretly and sacrificing secretly,
I'll take it home to my Savior's heart.
You have understood, and so I can depart.
I am sure the guest will not be forgotten
Who came to you at the hour of midnight.
We'll meet again on the great day,
The day of manifest glory,
When above the head of the Queen of Carmel
The crown of stars will gleam brilliantly,
Because the twelve tribes will have found their Lord.
Stein become the Carmelite, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,
and died at Auschwitz. In 1999, to inaugurate the Jubilee of 2000,
of Sweden , Catherine of
and Edith Stein were proclaimed Patronesses of
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