The Edith Stein Charm School: 3 Lessons from St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross on Being a Lady

In this modern society it is hard for a woman to understand precisely what it means to be a woman. Women are torn between a multitude of different theories concerning what the true feminine vocation is.

edith-stein

Listers, in this modern society it is hard for a woman to understand precisely what it means to be a woman. Women are torn between a multitude of different theories concerning what the true feminine vocation is. When I was younger I felt as if I was being pulled between the “Girl Power” mentality and the supposed “Make me a sandwich” mentality. I know that I hated it when my brothers teased me by saying that I should “Shut up, and know [my] role,” but I also seethed with contempt when some said to me “You go, girl!” while saucily snapping their fingers (clearly, I am a child of the nineties). None of those ideals seemed to work for me. None of these theories were enough. Being a woman had to be more than just being blindly submissive or just being intolerably proud. Both theories seemed either self-deprecating or selfish. By the time I entered college, I was confused and disgruntled because there was no clear answer for me. Then, when I decided to convert Catholicism, the whole game of feminine vocation changed for me. I was directed by my priest (Msgr. Gaalaas) to read a series of essays by Edith Stein. It was then when I started to realize that my role as a woman was to serve…the Lord. That simple truth made all the difference.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein) lived a very fascinating and tragic life. She was born a Jew and later converted to Catholicism. She received her doctorate in Philosophy in 1916. She became a Carmelite nun April 21, 1938. She was arrested by Gestapo and was sent to Auschwitz where she died in the gas chamber August 9, 1942. She was canonized May 1, 1987. Her life is very interesting and I recommend reading further on the Vatican website.

Her essays on the vocation and spirituality of women certainly can help guide Catholic women through the muddled mess of the rhetoric and pressure of modern society. She delves into the ideas of the religious and secular life in a balanced and thoughtful manner. She makes a distinction between three kinds of vocations for women:

  1. The Natural Vocation — Wife and Mother
  2. The Other Natural Vocation — Worker in the Secular Arena
  3. The Supernatural Vocation — The Consecrated Life

The following list is three reflections from one of her essays entitled “The Ethos of Women’s Professions” where she discusses the different options to fulfill the feminine vocation. You can find this essay in the book entitled Essays on Woman.¹ Now onto the 3 lessons on being a lady:

1. When in Doubt, Ask Yourself “What Would Mary do?”

Were we to present in contrast the image of the purely developed character of spouse and mother as it should be according to her natural vocation, we must gaze upon the Virgin Mary. In the center of her life stands her son. She awaits His birth in blissful expectation; she watches over His childhood; near or far, indeed, wherever He wishes, she follows Him on His way; she holds the crucified body in her arms; she carries out the will of the departed. But not as her action does she do all this: she is the Handmaid of the Lord; she fulfills that to which God has called her. And that is why she does not consider the child as her own property.: she has welcomed Him from God’s hands; she lays Him back into God’s hands by dedicating Him in the Temple and by being with Him at the crucifixion. Should we consider the Mother of God as spouse, we find a quite, limitless trust which in turn depends on limitless, trust, silent obedience, and obviously faithful communion in suffering. She does all this in surrender to the will of God who has bestowed her husband upon her as human protector and visible guide.

The image of the Mother of God demonstrates the basic spiritual attitude which corresponds to woman’s natural vocation; her relation to her husband is one of obedience, trust, and participation in his life as she furthers his objective tasks and personality development; to the child she gives true care, encouragement, and formation of his God-given talents; she offers both selfless surrender and a quiet withdrawal when unneeded. All is based on the concept of marriage and mother as a vocation from God; it is carried out for God’s sake and under His Guidance. –Page 45-46

2. A True “Liberated” Lady Lives A Eucharistic and Prayerful Life

To have divine love as its inner form, a woman’s life must be a Eucharistic life. Only in daily, confidential relationship with the Lord in the tabernacle can one forget self, become free of all one’s own wishes and pretensions, and have a heart open to all the needs and wants of others. Whoever seeks to consult with the Eucharistic God in all her concerns, whoever lets herself be purified by the sanctifying power coming from the sacrifice at the altar, offering herself to the Lord in this sacrifice, whoever receives the Lord in her soul’s innermost depth in Holy Communion cannot but be drawn ever more deeply and powerfully in to the flow of divine life, incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, her heart converted to the likeness of the divine heart

Something else is closely related to this. When we entrust all the troubles of our early existence confidently to the divine heart, we are relieved of them. Then our soul is free to participate in the divine life […] Therefore, the life of an authentic Catholic woman is also a liturgical life. Whoever prays together with the Church in spirit and in truth knows that her whole life must be formed by this life of prayer. –Page 55-56

3. A Lady is Born to Serve…the Lord

Must all women become religious in order to fulfill their vocation as women? Certainly not. But it certainly does mean that the fallen perverted feminine nature can be restored to its purity and led to the heights of the vocational ethos which this pure nature indicates only if it is completely surrendered to God. Whether she is a mother in the home, or occupies a place in the limelight of public life, or lives behind quiet cloister walls, she must be a handmaid of the Lord everywhere. So had the Mother of God in all circumstances of her life, as the Temple virgin enclosed in that hallowed precinct, by her quiet work in Bethlehem and Nazareth, as guide to the apostles and the Christian community after the death of her son. Were each woman an image of the Mother of God, a spouse of Christ, an apostle of the divine Heart, then would each fulfill her feminine vocation no matter what conditions she lived and what worldly activity absorbed her life. –Page 52

St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, pray for us

 ¹All quotes were taken from the following book:
Stein, Edith. Essays on Woman from The Collected Works of Edith Stein Vol. 2. Washington D. C.: ICS Publications 1987.

Author: Catherine

Catherine was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She converted to Catholicism in November 2004. She graduated from Oral Roberts University in the winter of 2005 with a degree in New Testament Biblical Studies. She married the love of her life in January 2006. She is a mother of two wonderful and rambunctious boys and hopes God will bless her with several more. She loves to read good literature and theology, she dabbles in writing, and she likes to riff bad movies.

  • Very beautiful! Thank you for sharing this reflection!

  • Thank you for this!! I am definitely going to have to read these essays by St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross and share them with friends.

  • Going back to school

    Charm is a word that has largely lost its true meaning, but you, through the words of St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross, have reminded us what it really is all about. Thank you for the reminder. We need it.

  • edith rocks

  • I was just searching for some reliable Catholic guidance on womanhood. These are such perplexing times (and the nineties really did put an extra twist in this twisted world). Thank you.

  • When Theresa Benedicta of the Cross speaks EVERYONE should listen. She is not only a Saint; she was intellectually brilliant!

  • Vanessa

    Wow! This is great! I love the idea of aligning our heart with the Divine…and I love the heading of the “truly liberated” woman! Only a life of virtue is the true expression of our freedom!!

    • Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that there are two words that Americans fail to understand properly “Freedom and Sex.” I especially think the modern feminist movement has failed totally on understanding what true freedom is. I plan on doing some more posts about being a truly “liberated” female soon. I am glad that you liked it.

  • JO-ANNE REYNOLDS

    JUST THINK FOR A SECOND,EDITH STEIN WAS OF JEWISH DESCENT,AN ATHEIST,BECAME A CATHOLIC,A NUN AND THEN A SAINT.NOW WHAT THAT TELLS ME AT A TIME WHEN JEWS WERE HATED,JEWISH WOMEN COULD NEVER ACHIEVE ANYTHING NEAR WHAT EDITH STEIN DID.IF THATS NOT INCREDIBLE, HER SEARCH FOR TRUTH LED HER TO BECOME CATHOLIC,A NUN AND A SAINT.I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT THATS PRETTY MIRACULOUS.SHE WAS( PAYING ATTENTION)SHE LET GOD DO THE REST.THAT KIND OF COURAGE OF CONVICTION COMES FROM PLACE I DO NOT KNOW BUT I SO WISH I DID.I WILL ALWAYS WONDER WHAT SHE WAS THINKING WHEN SHE WAS WALKING TO THE GAS CHAMBERS? MY GUESS,SHE WAS FORGIVING EACH AND EVERYONE OF THEM…….THERE IS NOTHING MORE TO SAY.UNLESS YOU CAN THINK OF SOMTHING.

  • I love this! Edith Stein is awesome! I like the three points you pulled out of her writings. That book of essays can sometimes get a little dense. I did a series a while ago sharing quotes from her on my blog and I’ve reviewed a book called Embracing Edith Stein by Anne Costa. I highly recommend that book for anyone who is looking to how to relate Edith Stein’s thought to today’s world.