A few days ago some Carmelite nuns posted a quotation from St Edith Stein. Edith – known in her religious life as Sister Teresia Benedicta of the Cross – was a woman who converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Ultimately, she was incarcerated in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where she was murdered in the gas chambers in August 1942. A philosopher, Edith was highly intelligent and incisive and she wrote extensively – in fact, she is now one of the patron saints of Europe.
The Carmelite nuns has posted this very short quotation – “If God is within us and God is love, it cannot be otherwise than that we love our brothers and sisters. Therefore our love of human beings is the measure of our love of God.”
Now of course, what these words express is nothing new – it is, in fact, simply are an echo of the Great Command given by the Lord in the Gospel; that we love God, and our neighbour as ourself. Sometimes, however, we need to be reminded of those things which are right before us and which we can become so used to seeing that we no longer truly see them at all.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about these few short words ever since reading them. Carmelite nuns don’t speak a great deal – they use words judiciously, carefully, deliberately; and when they do, we should stop and take notice.
It will come as no surprise that I agree with Edith. But I would perhaps add just a few additional words to clarify what this excerpt really seeks to show us – our love of those human beings we like or love least is the measure of our love of God.
It is, after all, very easy to love those who are dear to us and who likely love us in return. We get something out of the deal. How much harder to love those who can give us nothing back, or to whom we feel the least inclined. Our nature, our personality, our make-up tend to get in the way when it comes to liking others and our affection (or otherwise) for others spans an entire spectrum between love and near-hate. And it is even worse if we disagree with them on some matter.
Social media is a good test of this maxim of Edith Stein.
Think about those whose words you read and with whom you vehemently disagree – it might be on the nature of the Church, on liturgy, on devotional practice or something else. And ask yourself – when I engage with that person, do my responses and my words display love and respect – or something other than these two?
It seems to me that all too often, we use our religious beliefs and practices, indeed the very Gospel itself, as a weapon; it becomes a cudgel in our hands with which we beat the other person. ‘Church’ becomes something to protect and guard, to defend from the entry of others we decide shouldn’t be there at all.
Surely, though, that is the whole point of both the Gospel and the Church – to invite and to welcome? To comfort and support? To engage, to listen and to learn?
On the Cross, Christ drew all people to Himself. May He grant us the grace to continue that work, for that is the measure of love.