Sunday, 26 September 2010

St Edith Stein and Pope Benedict XVI

The theology of sacrifice and suffering outlined by Pope Benedict in his recent homily at Westminster Cathedral (and described in my previous post) exhibits many similarities to the thought of St Edith Stein, the Carmelite philosopher and theologian who died in Auschwitz.

Like Pope Benedict, Edith sees the formula which concludes the euchacristic prayer as central to a proper understanding of the nature of the Mass, of liturgy, and of the Church:

"Through him, with him, and in him in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, for ever and ever." With these solemn words, the priest ends the eucharistic prayer at the center of which is the mysterious event of the consecration.

Edith expounds the "through him, with him, and in him" doxology in such a way as to emphasise that "the prayer of the Church is the prayer of the ever-living Christ":

All praise of God is through, with, and in Christ. Through him, because only through Christ does humanity have access to the Father and because his existence as God-man and his work of salvation are the fullest glorification of the Father;

him, because all authentic prayer is the fruit of union with Christ and at the same time buttresses this union, and because in honoring the Son one honors the Father and vice versa;

him, because the praying church is Christ himself, with every individual praying member as a part of his Mystical Body, and because the Father is in the Son and the Son the reflection of the Father, who makes his majesty visible.

The dual meanings of through, with, and in clearly express the God-man’s mediation. The prayer of the church is the prayer of the ever-living Christ. Its prototype is Christ’s prayer during his human life.

By the same token, the battle of the Church is the battle of the ever-living Christ - a battle which is ongoing:

The battle between Christ and the Antichrist is not yet over. The followers of Christ have their place in this battle, and their chief weapon is the cross.

More specifically, the followers of Christ are called to accompany and assist Him along the Way of the Cross:

The Savior is not alone on the way of the cross. Not only are there adversaries around him who oppress him, but also people who succor him. The archetype of followers of the cross for all time is the Mother of God. Typical of those who submit to the suffering inflicted on them and experience his blessing by bearing it is Simon of Cyrene. Representative of those who love him and yearn to serve the Lord is Veronica.

Like Benedict, Edith sees this participation in the Cross by the faithful as redemptive - both for the one who suffers and for others. This is because, again like Benedict, she understands the suffering of the Church and of individual Christians as an action of Christ, inasmuch as the prayer and sacrifice and suffering of the Church is the prayer and sacrifice and suffering of the ever-living Christ, offered by Him perpetually to the Father in the Heavenly Liturgy:

Everyone who, in the course of time, has borne an onerous destiny in remembrance of the suffering Savior or who has freely taken up works of expiation has by doing so canceled some of the mighty load of human sin and has helped the Lord carry his burden. Or rather, Christ the head effects expiation in these members of his Mystical Body who put themselves, body and soul, at his disposal for carrying out his work of salvation.

When freely-accepted, suffering with Christ both brings about union with Him and gives expression to our existing relationship with Him:

Thus, when someone desires to suffer, it is not merely a pious reminder of the suffering of the Lord. Voluntary expiatory suffering is what truly and really unites one to the Lord intimately. When it arises, it comes from an already existing relationship with Christ.
In order to enter fully into this union of the Via Crucis, the Spirit of Christ must first dwell in us, and we must first dwell in Him as members of the Mystical Body (the Church) of which He is the Head in such a way that His life flows into us (this idea of Christ's Life flowing into the Church and into the individual believer is another theme common to Edith and to Benedict's Westminster Cathedral homily):

Only someone whose spiritual eyes have been opened to the supernatural correlations of worldly events can desire suffering in expiation, and this is only possible for people in whom the spirit of Christ dwells, who as members are given life by the Head, receive his power, his meaning, and his direction.
Edith reminds us that victory and salvation have alread been won on Calvary. However, because we are members of the Mystical Body of which He is the Head (and are thereby filled with the inflowing of His life and power), we can share with Christ in His carrying of the Cross in such a way that our sufferings become redemptive for ourselves and for others - specifically because Christ now lives in us and acts in us and by us and through us.

And so those who have a predilection for the way of the cross by no means deny that Good Friday is past and that the work of salvation has been accomplished. Only those who are saved, only children of grace, can in fact be bearers of Christ’s cross.Only in union with the divine Head does human suffering take on expiatory power.

"Through Him, with Him, and in Him" has thus become, from His side, "through them [individual Christians; the Church], with them, and in them". There comes into being a kind of interpenetration, a mutual indwelling, of the Christ in the Church, in such a way that human suffering, properly understood and grace-fully accepted, becomes not just sanctifying but sacrificial, redemptive, liturgical, eucharistic.

(The quotations from Edith Stein are extracted from Before the Face of God and At the Foot of the Cross at my Enlarging the Heart blog here, here and here.)