EDITH STEIN, WOMAN OF PRAYER:
Her Life and Ideals
by Joanne Mosley
(Gracewing, 2004, 162pp, $25.00. Available from Freedom Publishing)
It is comforting to encounter in the lives of the saints something of the ordinariness which characterises the daily grind of our own lives, an ordinariness which on the one hand allows us to more easily identify with and emulate them, and which at the same time better illumnates their extraordinary holiness in an often unholy world. Joanne Mosley's account, Edith Stein, Woman of Prayer: Her Life and Ideals, affectionately portrays its subject in just such a light.
A saint of our times, Edith Stein is a unique and inspiring woman whose story and works reveal an impassioned soul and a remarkable intellect whose unrelenting hunger for the truth led her to the discovery of the Catholic faith, which she embraced with fervent jubilation.
This is a short volume - 162 pages of relatively large text - divided into two distinct parts. The first part, entitled 'The Search for the Truth', provides an excellent overview of the life of Edith Stein, from her Jewish childhood up until her death in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The second part outlines the various 'Ideal Figures in Edith's Prayers' (as it is titled), including the person of Jesus, Our Lady, Queen Esther of the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah, and several saints of the Carmelite tradition.
As a biographical overview it is by no means exhaustive, preferring rather to dwell on this or that anecdote in order to convey something of the spirit in which Edith Stein approached the various challenges in her life, whether it be reluctantly accepting a teaching post at the expense of further academic study, her delayed admittance to the cloistered life of the Carmelite order, or serenely accepting her fate as a Catholic Jew at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Mosley's account depicts a life to which the reader can easily relate. Both as a lay person, and later, as a Carmelite nun, Edith is a woman of the world, a daughter, a sister, a student, an activist, a rebel, and a friend. She struggles to cope with the rigorous demands of working life, suffers disappointments in her academic career, and is frustrated at the social barriers which prevent women from fulfilling their potential as members of society. She is, overwhelmingly, a mere mortal like us. And yet in all of this, she maintains and cultivates a steadfast and loving commitment to the will of God.
In her account, Mosley shows that Edith's faith was anchored in the various devotions which permeated the saint's life: her yearning for the truth, which is shown to be instrumental in her discovery of the true faith; her devotion to contemplative prayer before the Blessed Sacrament; her love of the Cross, and her joy at being called to carry it with Christ; and her devotion to the saints, particularly the great saints of the Carmelite tradition, including Thérse of Lisieux, St John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila.
These devotions are explored more extensively in the second half of the book, where Mosely demonstrates how Edith used them to fill every moment of her life with the grace of God.
Edith's academic achievements in the field of philosophy, as well as her many years' experience as a teacher, are also shown to have had a significant impact on the large body of work which she produced throughout her lifetime, including theses on the nature of education, biographies of several Carmelite nuns, reflections on the works of saints including St John of the Cross, as well as many works of literature, including poetry and several plays.
As a gifted and strong woman, Edith Stein is an impressive role model for young women everywhere, particularly those who may be struggling to reconcile traditional conceptions of the role of women in society with modern conceptions of feminism. Similarly, as a model of inquisitive rationality, her legacy should be of interest to those whose search for the truth is tempered by a sceptical approach to religion.
Easy to read, and thoroughly referenced (with an extensive biblio- graphy) Edith Stein, Woman of Prayer: Her Life and Ideals is an inspiring work, and an excellent introduction to the life and works of a saint whose joyful devotion to the will of God lifted her above the struggles of day-to-day life, to a life of exemplary holiness in a hostile world.
Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Thomas More Centre.