Essay: Clearing Vermin from Dark Corners

Old photograph of Edith Stein sitting in a chair.
A circular logo with a silhouette of a woman in the middle holding her finger to her mouth as if to say, shhhh.

Secretum Meum Mihi Press

Essay: Clearing Vermin from Dark Corners

by Kristen West McGuire

Before Edith Stein left Breslau for Gottingen in 1913, one of her fellow students remarked to her, “Well, I wish you the good fortune of finding in Gottingen people who will satisfy your taste. Here you seem to have become far too critical.”

Edith was dumbstruck. She had assumed that people thought well of her, and that her tendency to mock the faults of others was well-received. Apparently, it wasn’t.

She reflected later, “I had been living in the naïve conviction that I was perfect…I was not angry with him for saying [these words]. Nor did I shrug them off as an undeserved reproach. They were for me a first alert to which I gave much reflection.” The dark corners of our hearts, minds and souls are often a surprise even to us.

Whereas last month we talked about the passion of God’s love burning out the impurities in our souls, this month we turn to the aftereffects of such cleansing. The divine flame now burns in a cleared area in the soul, and it is easier to assess the darker outlines of our deeds that are tainted by self-interest and pride, rather than a love that continually is renewed by sacrificial self-giving.

Sometimes it makes us angry when others reveal these “minor” faults to us, such as Edith’s excessive honesty. After all, most of us are doing the best that we can, and this isn’t heaven. There are so many problems, and sometimes our advice is objectively good. Is it wrong to offer advice, even if it is self-righteous in tone?

Without realizing it, Edith Stein imitated the Blessed Mother in this episode of her life. She pondered the the hurtful words, applying them to her actions, and seeking to live a deeper Truth. God is the housekeeper of the soul. He clears the corners for us. All we have to do is ponder, in the quiet light of truth, all that we might ask Him to sweep away for the sake of our salvation.


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