Saturday, February 10, 2007

Benedict and Scholastica: brother and sister (saints)

I asked a favor of you and you refused it. I asked it of God, and he has granted it. --St. Scholastica's famous reply to her brother

Today's saint, Scholastica, will always be tied to her more famous brother, Saint Benedict, one of the founders of modern monasticism and towering figures in the history of the Church. And yet, for one night, his saintly sister seemed to get the better of Ben, at least in the eyes of the Almighty.

Benedict, of course, was the first saint to establish an order and monastic system for monks, and soon afterwards Scholastica followed suit, opening a monastery for nuns under Benedict's direction.

Now despite their closeness in both relationship and distance (Scholastica's monastery was only about five miles from her brother's), rules allowed her to visit him but once a year. And it was Scholastica who always traveled to Benedict's place, and even then they always met in a house outside the monastery for his rules would not permit a woman to enter the actual home of the monks . . .

They spent their visits discussing spiritual matters and praising God—indeed not even a whiff of gossip. And although their relationship seemed a far cry from yesterday's pair, Attracta and Conall, when Scholastica (because of a foreboding she would die before their next meeting) begged her brother to let her stay the night just this once, Benedict flatly refused, once again citing the Order's rules. Believing this was God's will (but reacting far more humbly than Attracta), Scholastica bowed her head and prayed. And the rest as they say, is history.

Almost immediately after her prayer, a thunderstorm of such intensity broke out that neither brother nor sister, nor traveling companions could leave the house until morning. Initially angry, Benedict accused his sister of provoking the storm, to which she answered with the classic above quoted reply. Benedict, realizing he was wrong, quickly changed his tune, and together they spent the rest of the night discoursing on the joys of heaven—to which Scholastica would be taken a mere three days later. Benedict, praying in his cell when she died, had a vision of his sister rising to heaven in the form of a dove, and immediately sent several startled monks to fetch her body, who arrived shortly after her death.

Of the many spiritual sermons one could give based on this encounter, whether this wonderful complementary difference between man and woman (eloquently explained in John Paul II's Theology of the Body), the closeness between Christian brothers and sisters, or that disciplines (but not dogmas, as Protestants mistakenly believe), however helpful, can be broken with the Holy Spirit's permission, there is one lesson that encompasses all the rest. While it may be men who hold the "power" in our one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, it is only through the influence of holy women (remember Cana?) that this power is rightly used.

Saints Scholastica and Benedict—pray for us!

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