According to an anecdote in The Life and Legacy of St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith and her friend Pauline spent an afternoon in Frankfurt Germany. While there, they visited a Cathedral and Stein noticed the quiet actions of a credible witness that stayed with her forever.
“We stopped in at the cathedral for a few minutes; and, while we looked around in respectful silence, a woman carrying a market basket came in and knelt down in one of the pews to pray briefly. This was something entirely new to me…Here was someone interrupting her everyday shopping errands to come into this church, although no other person was in it, as though she were here for an intimate conversation. I could never forget that” (Life, 401).
There is a tendency today to always want to “be a witness” for Christ. While the sentiment has good intentions, living like this reduces our actions to a series of utilitarian functions. Nothing is good unless it “bears witness.” Meanwhile, we begin, however subtly, to fall under the wrong assumption that everyone is watching us and make ourselves the center of another’s conversion.
This anonymous German woman, who would play some role in the conversion of Edith Stein, shows a different way to go about it. Whomever this woman was, she had no idea that a couple of friends were sight seeing Frankfurt that day and would stop into the Cathedral. She would have no idea that one of those woman – a future saint – was a prominent philosopher still in the middle of her own search. We can’t assume with any kind of charity that this anonymous lady took her shopping bags into the Cathedral with her in order that she might “be a witness” to random tourists who may or may not be in the Cathedral. No, this woman sought first the Kingdom of God.
We are fond of saying that our actions often speak louder than words, and so we’re tempted to make sure we give our actions the right words and to make the whole world our stage. But there is a better way to go about it.
Christ reminds us that the greatest commandment is to “‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment” (Matt. 22: 36-39). In other words, our primary responsibility in life is to love God. It is not “being a good witness.”
Everything else arises out of this. The more we love God, the more we draw near to him. The closer we are to Him, the more we experience our own conversion. As we experience our own conversion and deepen our life in Christ, the more our lives conform to him. Pray. Repeat. Pray. Repeat. Pray.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves comes out of loving God with everything we are; our whole being. Setting our hearts on God has a way of taking care of all the other important details. As Edith wrote elsewhere, “We may live in confident certainty that what the Spirit of God secretly effects in us bears fruits in the kingdom of God. We will see them in eternity” (Edith Stein, 6). In other words, “do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
If you are out shopping and happen to drive by a Catholic church, by all means, stop in and have your own intimate conversation with Christ. But have the conversation on His terms. No need to worry about what kind of witness you’ll be. No need to worry about what other people might think.
Just kneel and pray and let the Lord of who is Lord of all come to you and change you.
Books mentioned in this post…
[mybooktable book=”edith-stein-life-legacy-st-teresa-benedicta-cross” display=”summary”]