August 9th and Human Violence

Sixty-two years ago today the second atom bomb was dropped in Japan at Nagasaki. The force of destruction was massive killing between 60 000 and 80 000 people. It was the last blow to Japan who surrendered unconditionally after that terrible day. It was one of many terrible days in a terrible war. Humanity lost so much in the Second World War. Civilization seemed to slide, not a little, but a lot! The cruelty that humans heaped upon humans during that period was truly unconscionable. We can be a very bloodthirsty and malevolent race. The atrocities from the Holocaust, the Atomic Bombings, the countless horror stories from POWs, the bombing of Pearl Harbour and on and on it goes. One would like to think that we have learned anything from that time – I am not yet convinced.


Three years prior to Nagasaki, also on August 9th another sad tale was unfolding. In this case the story of insanity comes from the concentration camps of Germany. St. Edith Stein was born in 1891 into a Orthodox Jewish Family.  She was born on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.  She grew up in a home with many struggles and by her teenage years considered herself an atheist. Stein studied philosophy in university. Inspired by Teresa of Avila’s writings Edith Stein converted to Catholicism in 1922 and she became a Carmelite nun –  Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In 1942 she was taken from the Netherlands where she was thought to be safe, and transferred to Auschwitz. She and her sister Rosa who also had converted to Christianity, had only a couple of short weeks in Auschwitz. They were gassed on August 9 1942She was an inspiring person who gained more knowledge of herself and her faith by honest self refection and prayer. She once said, I had given up practising my Jewish religion when I was a 14-year-old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God.”

She was a profound human being who had the rich roots of Judaism to form the faith which was later expressed as a catholic. Edith Stein understood the mystical nature of love and itched for justice for all of God’s children. She believed that we were all called to love. She saw a strong need to help the fellow human being and felt that in helping others, God’s grace is made real. She died because she was a Jew; she died because she was a Christian who spoke out against the Nazi’s.  Read her words to Pope Pius XI in a letter describing her frustration with the church’s silence on Nazi Germany

As a child of the Jewish people who, by the grace of God, for the past eleven years has also been a child of the Catholic Church, I dare to speak to the Father of Christianity about that which oppresses millions of Germans. For weeks we have seen deeds perpetrated in Germany which mock any sense of justice and humanity, not to mention love of neighbour. For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings.

Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself "Christian." For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name."


She was killed because she would not turn her back on the basic principal that all humans are created in the image of God and deserve to be loved, respected and dignified. She lived her baptismal covenant to “strive for unity and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being. (BAS Page 156)”


On this day then, we pray that there might be an end to violence, terror and hatred. We pray that we might all seek to find our way of making peace, making love, making justice. We pray that we might convict ourselves for any way in which we participate in violence and injustice and that we might take the example of Edith Stein – and seek to love each other. Let us not forget today the 80 000 at Nagasaki. Let us not forget the 6 Million in the German concentration camps. Let us not forget Saint Edith Stein. Let us pray to know God with us perhaps this excerpt from one of Edith’s poems from a Pentecost Novena found in Volume IV of the Collected Works Edith Stein, will be a help.


 Who are you, sweet light, that fills me
And illumines the darkness of my heart?
You lead me like a mother’s hand,
And should you let go of me,

I would not know how to take another step.

You are the space
That embraces my being and buries it in yourself.
Away from you it sinks into the abyss
Of nothingness, from which you raised it to the light.
You, nearer to me than I to myself
And more interior than my most interior
And still impalpable and intangible
And beyond any name:
Holy Spirit eternal love!


What else can be said? – AMEN


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