Thursday, February 10, 2011

What we don't know...

What we don’t know about Saint Scholastica makes me love her all the more. Twin sister of our holy father, Saint Benedict, she is considered the patroness of all Benedictine nuns. In addition to the brief narrative on their birth at Norcia, we are given just two vignettes about holy Scholastica in The Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great. This is slim pickings next to the many miracles attributed to her brother’s great faith. In The Rule of Benedict she is given no mention at all. Yet, given these few breadcrumbs we can follow Scholastica into the heart of God if we pay careful attention to what is given, but more importantly, to what is absent.

Today, in Benedictine monasteries all over the world, the story will be read again. Throughout their lives in community, the holy twins would meet once a year for a day. The story is about their last meeting. As evening began to fall, Benedict prepared to return to his monastery, as was the custom. Scholastica, eager to keep talking with her brother about the things of heaven, begged him to stay the night. Saint Benedict refused. It was, very simply, against the rule. Unable to bear his departure, Scholastica lowered her head, wept and prayed. Suddenly, a storm worth of the Weather Channel began to roar and pour. Benedict, more angry than surprised, asked her what she’d done. “When I appealed to you, you would not listen to me. So I turned to my God and He heard my prayer." Her prayer was heard, we are told in the narrative, because she loved more. It’s no wonder the gospel read on this feast is the story of Martha and Mary. Mary, who chose the “better part”, would not, Jesus says, have to suffer its loss. Scholastica died three days after this last meeting. Her spirit was made visible to her brother soaring as a dove into the heavens. He commands that her body be brought to his monastery and placed in the tomb prepared for his burial, where, some time later, they are reunited – as it was in their beginning.

So, like “Columbo” in a trench coat, I want to walk around this scene and see beyond the mystery of their relationship. I see in her longing a deep love for God and her need to process that longing in relationship. That feels like our life as monastic women – why I need community. OSB stands for the Order of Saint Benedict. Yet, there is a softness in the Holy Rule – an uncompromising call for compassion, moderation and forgiveness. What Saint Benedict calls “good zeal” can be rightly understood as the heart on fire with love for God and for one another. Scholastica’s heart was indeed on fire with love – a love more powerful than the monastic structures that governed her life. Benedict encourages us to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” Perhaps, he learned that priority from someone he loved very deeply – someone who knew that truth in her heart. Will we ever be able to unearth her story from these two sources? Probably not. But, these two stories can attune our ears for the sound of her voice between the lines. Saint Scholastica was content with her place - first prioress of the first “Benedictine” monastery for women. The absence of her story in his, tells me that she was a woman of great humility. We can only imagine the impact of her love in his monastic life and her example of holiness within her own household. Pope Gregory, in The Dialogues, tells me all I need to know about Saint Scholastica as he reflects on her answered prayer: “Do we not read in St. John that God is love? Surely it is no more than right that her influence was greater than his, since hers was the greater love.”
Happy feast!
Blessings and love to you all...
- Sister Vicki