St. Scholastica; Irritating Sister

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When I made my first inquiries about becoming a Benedictine Oblate, I received this icon with the monastery’s response. It sits on my desk, still.

Today is the feast of St. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. Very little is known about her, historically, and there is some debate about where her relics may be. While in Rome, we were able to take a tour of the monastery and cave at Subiaco, where Benedict founded the order, and our helpful guide communicated that the bones found beneath a war-shattered altar at Monte Cassino, in the mid-20th century, are — at least within the order — accepted as having been from both Benedict and Scholastica.

What we know of Scholastica comes from the Dialogues of St. Gregory. When I had the great privilege of praying at Subiaco, and pondering the still-bright, wonderfully preserved frescoes within the chapel, I felt oddly close to this foundress as I recalled her headstrong appeals to God, for her brother’s company.

Perhaps I just love thinking that she had “irritated” Benedict, as only a sister can irritate a brother.

I actually brought back a small replica of the fresco depicting the moment described below, although, sadly, I cannot find the image for you, online.

Now Benedict had a sister named Scholastica, who had been consecrated to the Almighty Lord from the time of her childhood. She had the custom of visiting him once a year, and the man of God would come down to meet her at a place belonging to the monastery not far beyond the gate. One day she came, as was her custom, and her venerable brother came down to meet her with his disciples. They spent the whole day in the praise of God and in holy conversation. The darkness of night was already falling when they took their meal together. The hour grew later and later as they sat there at table carrying on their holy conversation. His sister, a holy monastic woman, then made a request: “I beg you. Do not leave me this night so that we may talk until morning more about the joys of heavenly life. But he responded, “What are you talking about, my sister? Under no circumstances can I stay outside my cell.”

3. Now the heavens were so calm that no cloud appeared in the sky. When this holy monastic woman heard her brother’s refusal, she folded her hands and put them upon the table. Leaning down, she put her head on her hands to make a prayer to God. When she raised her head from the table, there broke forth such powerful lightning and thunder and such a flood of rain that neither the venerable Benedict nor the brothers with him could set foot outside the door of the place where they were sitting . . . The connection between the prayer and the storm was such that her head rose from the table together with the thunder as if both the raising of her head and the falling of the rain were one and the same action.

4. When the man of God saw that he could not get back to the monastery because of the lightning and thunder and the great flood of rain, he was irritated and began to complain: “May God have mercy on you, my sister. Why have you done this?” And she replied to him: “See, I asked you, and you would not listen to me. So I asked my Lord, and he has listened to me. Now then, go, if you can. Leave me, and go back to the monastery.” But unable to go outside, he stayed against his will in a place where he had been unwilling to stay on his own. So it happened that they spent the whole night in vigil, and during their holy conversation about the spiritual life they found fulfillment for themselves in their relationship with one another.

Heh. I like a girl who knows who to go to, to get what she wants! St. Scholastica, pray for us!

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Galensmark

    Apparently, “no” has never been an acceptable answer to a woman’s query.

  • Sally Thomas

    My children and I read Kathleen Norris and Tomie de Paola’s beautiful book The Holy Twins at bedtime tonight. The illustrations are gorgeous, and the book is a lovely testimony to a lifelong and very real (including the irritations) brother-sister love.

    Our favorite part was that while the story mostly follows Benedict, in the background of every picture there are scenes of Scholastica as a girl with the nuns, then having her hair cut to make her first vows, then making her final vows, then becoming abbess. In everything he does, she’s always there, and when they meet, and he tells her everything he has learned in the development of his monastic vocation, she laughs and says that her life has taught her all the same lessons.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_NKMKSMXDCJBNBL7ZEQA3J5QPXI Greg

    I am the only male I know that went to a school named St. Scholastica. The boarding school had boys grades 1-3. At 4th grade, you transferred to St. Paul’s. I still get strange looks when I tell St. Scholastica graduates that I too went to their school.


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