New school year lessons from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

23 August 2023

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage, and strength to serve you. Enkindle your love in me, and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me. I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet with peace.”

~ St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)[1]

As summer comes to a close, many couples will make plans for the new school year ahead. On Aug. 9, we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who well understood the joys and challenges of academia given her experience as a teacher and having received her doctorate in philosophy in 1917[2].

Melissa Guzik

Over time, she converted to Catholicism, became a Carmelite nun, and ended up a martyr in the Auschwitz concentration camp. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a woman of great faith, who united herself to the cross of Christ and trusted in God. What are some ways that you and your spouse can entrust this new academic year to God, given all the unknowns and challenges that are before you?

During this season, many parents are registering their children for a myriad of recreational activities, while both parents and children are preparing for the challenges, both academic and otherwise, that the new year entails.

There is a tendency to fill a family’s schedule with many activities. As you engage in planning and enrolling, it can be a good time to evaluate what activities are best for your entire family and meet the needs of your children.

One aspect to consider can be how to prioritize time as a couple. Are there any events that you and your spouse want to attend regularly? Do you want to set aside time every week or month for a date together? Which activities might nurture your relationship with each other and God so that you can continue to give of yourselves in other areas of your life? What fun activity from your summer would you like to carry forward into the fall? What are some things “O my God, [that] fill my soul with holy joy, courage, and strength to serve you”[3] that you should include within this academic year?

We can plan all of these things, yet there are still a lot of unknowns that can bring anxiety. This time of year can be a time of increased stress with the transition to the new academic year with new classrooms, new teachers, new programs, perhaps a new school, new homeschool programs, a new homeschool board, a child leaving home to start post-secondary education, or your own educational plans while juggling your family’s needs.

Given this increased stress, it may be helpful to remember the prayer of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, “I do not see very far ahead, but when I have arrived where the horizon now closes down, a new prospect will open before me, and I shall meet with peace.”[4] This prayer can be a great reminder to entrust your plans to God. This way you can know that God is with you as you ask Him to “Enkindle [His] love in [you], and then walk with [you] along the next stretch of road before [you].”[5]

Jean MacKenzie

You could also consider the many trials that St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross encountered in her lifetime. To name a few: She was discriminated against in elementary school for being Jewish, resulting in her being “passed over for the highest honours she clearly deserved.”[6]

Due to various difficulties with her teachers and classmates at school, she had to leave her parents and move in with her sister.[7] She suffered from depression as a teenager.[8]

Her Jewish origin prevented her from being a professor.[9] She was forced to leave the Carmelite convent in Cologne because of the Nazis and she was smuggled to Echt in the Netherlands.[10] Yet, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross strove to have an attitude of surrender toward God. She is quoted as saying, ​​“For by doing what God demands of us with total surrender of our innermost being, we cause the divine life to become our own inner life. Entering into ourselves, we find God in our own selves.”[11]

It may feel overwhelming to look at your entire academic year, so, once you have the year planned, it might be helpful to break it down and focus on one day at a time. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross reminded us to focus on Jesus each day when she wrote to her friend saying, “The only essential is that one finds, first of all, a quiet corner in which one can communicate with God as though there were nothing else, and that must be done daily. It seems to me the best time is in the early morning hours before we begin our daily work; furthermore, [it is also essential] that one accepts one’s particular mission there, preferable for each day, and does not make one’s own choice.”[12]

This time of daily prayer could be carried out individually and then together with your spouse as a way to connect with God and each other.

Undeterred by the trials and hardships she encountered, many within the realm of academics, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross sought to live her life with “holy joy, courage and strength.” Amazingly, she managed to earn her doctorate, teach, join a Carmelite order, and ultimately become a canonized saint despite the struggles she faced. We pray this short reflection on her life inspires you to invite God into your life and marriage this upcoming academic year so that you too may entrust your plans, struggles and transitions to God. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross pray for us!

-Melissa Guzik and Jean MacKenzie are Registered Psychologists who work in private practice in Edmonton.  Melissa has been married since 2002 and has four children and Jean has been married since 2001 and has seven children. They are co-authors of the Catholic marriage enrichment book and workbook  To Know, Love and Serve: A Path to Marital Fulfilment. For more information see: www.knowloveserve.info.

[1] Hickey, P., Drink of the Stream: Prayers of Carmelites (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 308.
[2] Teresa Benedict of the Cross Edith Stein (1891-1942) . (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19981011_edith_stein_en.html
[3] Hickey, P., Drink of the Stream: Prayers of Carmelites (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 308.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Traflet, D. M., Saint Edith Stein: A Spiritual Portrait (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2008), p. 7.

[7] Ibid.
[8] Bellm, C., No Unlikely Saints: A Mental Health Pilgrimage with Sacred Company (Brick House in the City), p. 54.

[9] Teresa Benedict of the Cross Edith Stein (1891-1942) . (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/saints/ns_lit_doc_19981011_edith_stein_en.html
[10] Ibid.
[11] Quotes from Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Our Lady of Mercy. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://olmlaycarmelites.org/quote/teresa-benedicta

[12] Traflet, D. M., Saint Edith Stein: A Spiritual Portrait (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2008), p. 20.
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