Effie Caldarola

Effie Caldarola

You cannot overstate how strange and perplexing this U.S. election season has been.

The call to fear and isolationism, the occasional drumbeat of nationalism approaching xenophobia depresses me. Have we heard the whispers of scapegoating of certain people?

I found it so consoling that in the midst of the campaign season, a Sunday Gospel reading in July yielded the parable of the good Samaritan.

Once again, Jesus makes his point when the two religious figures cross the road to avoid the injured man left for dead, while the outsider, the stranger, stops and helps him with great mercy and compassion.

I am struck that in this Scripture, Jesus does not emphasize that the wounded man is my neighbor. Instead, Jesus asks us which of the three travelers proved himself a neighbor to the fellow in the ditch.

This puts the onus on me. To whom do I prove myself a neighbor? And what streets have I crossed to avoid being a neighbor?

This summer, the world mourned the death of Elie Wiesel, whose life gave profound witness to the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. Wiesel’s experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald were recounted in the profoundly moving memoir “Night,” which remains one of the transcendent testimonies from a survivor of the death camps.

On Aug. 9, Catholics celebrate the feast of a woman who did not survive the camps but remains a witness no less. We honor the memory of Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, born to devout Jewish parents in Germany in 1891.

A brilliant academic, Stein eventually left her family’s faith and embraced atheism. But a reading of the autobiography of the mystic St. Teresa of Avila brought Stein, in 1922, to Catholicism. She entered a Carmelite convent in 1933.

Germany was entering its darkest days. Stein realized that her presence in the German convent was threatening not just her own life but that of her Carmelite sisters. Under darkness of night, she slipped out of Germany and went to a Carmelite convent in the Netherlands.

But even there she wasn’t safe. Both she and her sister, also a convert to Catholicism, were sent to Auschwitz where she was killed in the gas chamber. Imagine, a cloistered nun threatening the authorities simply on the basis of her heritage. How does madness like this take over a government?

St. John Paul II called Stein “an outstanding daughter of Israel and, at the same time, a daughter of Carmel.”

Each day we see other witnesses to the Holocaust like Wiesel silenced by death.

Perhaps at no time in recent history have we needed those witnesses more. What causes a nation to turn on an entire group of people and scapegoat them as Germany did? Is it realistic to think it could never happen here?

This spring I was part of a group that welcomed a Syrian refugee family to our state. Well-vetted, these refugees approved by our Department of State are longing for a better life and safety for their children. It was a small gesture of welcoming and yet we were told to keep the arrival of Syrians quiet least it provoke fear and outrage.

In this season of national challenge, we must seek out what Abraham Lincoln so eloquently called “the better angels of our nature.” Those angels are sorely needed right now.

We pray to Edith Stein to guide us in mercy. We pray to be like the Samaritan who did not hesitate to be a neighbor. We pray for our country.