St. John Vianney had a way with stories, always trying to use vivid and sometimes shocking images. He once talked about a man who had an excessive love of money. “And at the end of that man’s life” he said, “He was without a heart. He died a heartless man!” “His chest was empty!” “But when the banker opened up the vault the next day, there was his heart. His heart was found there in the midst of a pile of money.”
At the beginning of our Gospel we heard this, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” I have a story about a woman who made the heart of Jesus her treasure. It didn’t start out that way; however, she began her life with a heart that was troubled and restless. She was a woman of great intelligence who searched for truth. She searched for truth in psychology and philosophy, once thinking that truth had nothing what so ever to do with God. This woman’s name was Edith Stein. Edith Stein was born in 1891 in Breslau Germany. She was the youngest of eleven children born into a very devout Jewish family. Edith’s father, ran a successful timber business, he died when Edith was 2 years old. Her mother, a very devout, hard-working, and strong-willed woman, now had to look after the family and their large business. Which she did, however, she did not succeed in keeping up a living faith in her children. As a teenager Edith lost her faith in God, she quit praying, and became an atheist.
Edith was a brilliant student and after High School she went on to the University of Breslau where she studied philosophy and women’s issues. “For a time,” she wrote “I was a radical suffragette.” She had planned on becoming a teacher. But after graduating she served as a nurse for a short time in an Austrian field hospital during World War I. The hospital dissolved and she went back to school to earn her doctorate.
It was at about this time that one of her associates from the University had been killed on the battlefield. And this dead man’s young widow invited Edith to her home to help her get her husband’s academic papers in order. Edith hesitated; she had no belief in life after death so she wasn’t sure what she would say to this young Christian widow. She wasn’t sure she’d find the right words to console her. But what Edith Stein encountered when she met the widow struck her like a ray of sunlight. Rather than appearing crushed by her suffering, the young widow was filled with a hope that offered all the other mourners a sense of consolation and peace. This experience changed her. The light of faith broke in on her. And this light of faith came to her in the mystery of the Cross.
Years later she would write about this incident, “It was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power that it bestows on those who carry it. For the first time, I was seeing with my very eyes the Church, born from her Redeemer’s sufferings, triumphant over the sting of death. That was the moment my unbelief collapsed and Christ shone forth – in the mystery of the Cross.” In a search for truth Edith never dreamed she’d find it in Christ. She began to read the New Testament and the question for her became, would she convert to Lutheranism or Catholicism.
Two events would help her make this important decision. First, while helping tutor a student she and this student out of curiosity went into a Cathedral for a few moments, just to look around, and as they stood there just taking everything in a woman came in with her shopping basket and she knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. This was something new for Edith. In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches she had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of the day as if to talk with a friend. She was never able to forget that. And the second event that helped her in her decision to become a Catholic involved reading the life of St. Teresa of Avila. She had picked up the book while staying at a friend’s house. And once she’d begun reading it she couldn’t put it down. She read it through the night and after finishing it the next morning the very first words out of her mouth were, “This is the truth.” God is love.
She soon sought baptism and after being received into the Church she pursued scholarship and study as a service to God. Teaching, writing, and learning all she could about her new found Catholic faith. It wasn’t until eleven years later that she eventually entered the Carmelite Convent of Cologne, this was the year 1933. “Henceforth my only vocation is to love,” she would say, praying to God for everyone. She was now known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and while in the convent she pursued more studies and wrote more academic papers.
With World War II, Edith was moved from convent to convent across Europe trying to evade the Nazi forces. In 1942 she found herself in Holland and at last she thought she was safe. However, on August 2nd she was arrested by the Gestapo. All Jewish converts to the Catholic faith were rounded up in retaliation for a statement put out by the Dutch Bishops in which they condemned the pogroms and deportation of Jews. On August 9th she was killed at Auschwitz. A fellow professor later wrote, “She is a witness to God’s presence in a world where God is absent.”
At her canonization Pope Saint John Paul II said that, “Her heart remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.” For the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we read this from the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give your rest.” St. Teresa Benedicta found rest in the heart of God. She rested there. The heart was her treasure. The love of God became her treasure. She wrote, “In the heart of Jesus, which was pierced, the kingdom of heaven and the land of earth are bound together. Here is for us the source of life. This heart is the heart of the Triune Divinity, and the center of all human hearts… It draws us to itself with secret power; it conceals us in itself in the Father’s bosom and floods us with the Holy Spirit. This heart, it beats for us in the tabernacle where it remains mysteriously hidden in that quiet, white host.”
The heart of our Lord beats for us in the Eucharist. In the June Magnificat three years ago there was a series of stories about saints devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. And there was a story about a saint named Elzear and his wife Delphine. They had a very good marriage but sometimes Delphine would worry about her husband’s virtue when he went to Paris on business trips. To reassure her he would say, “Don’t worry, but if you have any concern go to church and sit before the Blessed Sacrament, go sit before the Eucharist and there enter into the Heart of Jesus and that’s where you’ll find me. So even if many miles separate us, we can still meet within the Heart of Jesus.” St. Elzear and his wife Delphine made the heart of Jesus their treasure.
St. Teresa Benedicta’s once restless heart rested in the Heart of Jesus. May our hearts too rest in the Heart of Jesus. May his charity become our charity. Because at the end of our life this is how we will be judged, judged on our charity. May our heart not be found in the midst of power, pleasure, possessions, or prestige but in the Charity of our Lord. Not long ago Sr. Laura Toth, one of our parishioners who is now a fully professed Franciscan sent me a beautiful note and she ended with this phrase, “May Jesus draw you more and more deeply into the inferno of His most Sacred Heart.” She writes the best letters.
And so I say the same to you, “May Jesus draw you more and more deeply into the inferno of His most Sacred Heart.” May your treasure be the Heart of Jesus. May your treasure be the love of Jesus.
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley