Blessed Are You Among Women
“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb…”
The journey of Edith Stein from atheism to God, from Jewish scholar to Carmelite nun, is one of the great odysseys of faith. The former Jewish-atheist scholar died as a Carmelite nun in the gas chamber of Auschwitz in 1942. Edith Stein — Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross — was canonized in 1998.
One of the most influential people in Edith’s life was the philosopher Adolf Reinach, her professor at the University of Gottingen. In Reinach’s writings and teachings, Edith Stein began to see the wisdom of God illuminating the philosophical wisdom of the ages. Both Professor Reinach and his wife, Anna, were generous in their friendship and support to Edith, one of the very few women pursuing higher studies in the early days of the 20th century. Anna’s friendship and counsel were especially valued by Edith.
At the outbreak of World War I, the wise and humble professor went off to fight for the German fatherland. Awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery, Reinach was killed in Flanders in 1917. When word of Reinach’s death was received, the devastated Edith immediately went to comfort Reinach’s young widow. Edith had no idea what to say. But it was Anna who provided hope and consolation to Edith. Despite her grief, Anna’s trust in God and the meaning of the Cross seemed stronger than ever.
Edith Stein later wrote of that moment: “It was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it bestows in those who carry it. For the first time I was seeing with my very own eyes the Church, born from its Redeemer’s sufferings, triumphant over the sting of death. That was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth — in the mystery of the Cross.”
In today’s gospel by St. Luke, we hear of the Visitation between the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth. On learning from the archangel that her cousin St Elizabeth is soon to give birth and is in need of support, our Lady in her charity hastens to her aid. She has no regard for the difficulties this involves. Although we do not know where exactly Elizabeth was living, it certainly meant a risky journey into the hill country of wild animals and thieves and robbers, which at that time would have taken four days.
From Mary’s visit to Elizabeth Christians should learn to be caring people.
St. Bede comments that Elizabeth blesses Mary using the same words as the archangel “to show that she should be honored by angels and by men and why she should indeed be revered above all other women.“
When we say the Hail Mary we repeat these divine greetings, “rejoicing with Mary at her dignity as Mother of God and praising the Lord, thanking him for having given us Jesus Christ through Mary”
Elizabeth is moved by the Holy Spirit to call Mary “the mother of my Lord,” thereby showing that Mary is the Mother of God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Edith and Anna’s “visitation” was a turning point in Edith Stein’s own journey of faith, leading and rewarding her initially to Christianity and baptism, and then to profession as a religious, and, finally, to the company of the martyrs. God is never outdone in generosity! In today’s Gospel, the Blessed Virgin Mary travels “in haste” to be with her cousin St. Elizabeth. St. Luke never says exactly why she goes, but we can guess: Mary wants to be with her beloved cousin in the last months of what must have been a very difficult pregnancy, but also to seek the elder Elizabeth’s counsel and support during her own tumultuous time.
In Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting and in our own similar “visitations,” the Holy Spirit of God is present in the healing, comfort and support we can extend to one another in such moments. God is never outdone in generosity! In the stirring of the infant St. John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb, God calls to humanity in every time and place: I am with you every step of the way. I am with you in every storm. I am with you when the night seems unending. In Christ’s birth, the inexplicable love and mercy of God becomes real to us and the peace and justice of God become possible.
Mary, Virgin most charitable, pray for us!
Fourth Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
Sunday, December 20th, 2015