Toward a Synthesis - Part 4

(Homily for Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

Message: Jesus calls us to trust God - and because of that trust, to do good works with love - because God first loves us. We see that love in him, in the cross.

We have arrived at the fourth and final section of the Sermon on the Mount before we begin the season of Lent this Wednesday. We saw last week how Jesus calls us to be perfect - not so people will see and say, "Wow, he's so good!" But rather that we will begin to see others as the Father sees you and me. That Jesus comes even for the most miserable human being. We know that because Jesus explicitly forgives those responsible for his terrible humiliation and torture. That is, he forgives you and me.

Pope Francis refers to this as the "synthesis" - the bringing together of Jesus' teaching. "Where your synthesis is," says Pope Francis, "there your heart lies."

Today we see the most difficult part of Jesus' synthesis, namely entrusting oneself to God. "Do not worry," he tells us, "your heavenly Father knows all your needs." But how can we avoid worry and anxiety? Uncertainty fills our lives. None of us knows what sickness, setback or ruin might overtake us this day.

When I hear Jesus tell us to trust God, I think of the German philosopher and Carmelite contemplative, Edith Stein. Brought up in a pious Jewish household at the end of the nineteenth century, as a young woman she stopped believing in God. A brilliant mind, Edith excelled in philosophy. One evening she picked up a book by St. Therese of Lisieux. She spent the entire night reading it and in the morning she believed not only in God, but in Jesus and his Church. It was not a passing emotion. At great personal cost she became a Catholic.

When the Nazi persecution of Jews began, she could have gone to America, as did most of her family. Edith, however, felt called to become a Carmelite Sister - like St. Therese. She eventually wound up in a convent in Holland. When the Nazis took over that country in 1940, they registered all Jews, including those who had become Christians. In July of 1942, the Dutch bishops protested the persecution of Jews - and on July 20, they had a letter read from all Catholic pulpits.

On August 2, the Nazis retaliated by rounding up all the Jewish Catholics on their register - including priests and sisters of Jewish background. They came to the convent of Edith Stein - now Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her sister, Rosa, was also there - she had become a Third Order Carmelite. The Gestapo gave them thirty minutes to gather clothes and three days food. Edith was calm, but Rosa was high strung. One of the Carmelite Sisters heard Edith say, "Komm, wir gehen für unser Volk!" Come, Rosa, we are going for our people. After the bureaucratic formalities, they were put on a train for Auschwitz. Fr. Bob Barron narrates how at a stop someone recognized Sister Teresa. She said, "We are going to the east." On August 9, 1942, Edith, her sister, Rosa, and about 100 other Jewish Catholics from Holland were murdered with poisonous gas. Their ashes are buried in a mass grave.

Edith Stein - St. Therese Blessed by the Cross - is a remarkable witness to trust in God in the midst of confusion, hatred and terrible suffering. As we enter Lent this Wednesday, let's take her words, "We are going to the east." The east is Jerusalem, the place where Jesus suffered, died, then rose from the dead.

We have been working these past four Sundays toward a synthesis. The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' core teaching, helps us to do that because it calls us to trust God - and because of that trust, to do good works with love - because God first loves us. We see that love in Jesus, in the cross.

None of us, please God, will face suffering and humiliation so terrible as Edith Stein. Still as we enter Lent, like her - St. Teresa Blessed by the Cross - we do say, "We are going to the east." Amen.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Eighth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2011: Only in God

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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