Mt 16:13-23 Experiencing God
Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
This morning, while preparing for a Mass at a Carmelite monastery, I asked myself this question: How does a Jewish woman, who later became an atheist, become a Carmelite nun, a martyr and a Saint?
Today is the feast day of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a Carmelite nun who, prior to entering the Carmelite order, was known in the world as Edith Stein. Edith Stein, along with her sister Rosa Stein (a Third Order Carmelite), were gassed in Auschwitz and buried in a mass grave in 1942.
Edith Stein was the last of eleven children born in 1891 to Siegfried Stein and Auguste Courant. Although her parents were observant Jews (and her mother remained loyal to her faith her entire life), by the age of fourteen, Edith made the conscious decision not to pray anymore. She distanced herself from the Jewish faith and from God.
How did she discover God? Through philosophy. Edith was a brilliant student, with an amazing craving for knowledge. But how did someone so studious, so intelligent and so analytical become so spiritual?
Edith obtained her doctorate (summa cum laude) in Philosophy in 1918 under the guidance of the world famous phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl. There are four core disciplines in philosophy. Ontology is the study of beings or their being – what is; Epistemology is the study of knowledge – how we know; Logic is the study of valid reasoning – how to reason; Ethics is the study of right and wrong – how we should act. If we were to add Phenomenology to our list, then it would be the study of our experience – how we experience.
Edith Stein became a believer in phenomenology. Her problem with God was simple: If God exists, then how would we experience Him?
Her answer came one evening in March 1921. While visiting the home of philosopher friends, the married couple Theodor and Hedwig Conrad-Martius, she came across the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. She read the entire book in a single night and found the answer to her question.
How do we experience God? By dying to oneself.
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” No wonder why Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s concern was so swift and so brutal! “Get behind me Satan!” The worst thing that anyone could ever pray for is to undo God’s Will!
How do we come to know God? Yes, intellectual knowledge of God is important. Reading about God is important. But if we really want to come to know God then we must experience Him ourselves. And the only way to know Him and love Him is to serve Him. “If anyone wishes to follow me, then they must pick up their cross and follow me.”
Saint Edith Stein, pray for us!