Storms are often used to present ominous or negative events, but both of the feasts that we celebrate today show us that a storm can be a gift.
On February 10th much of the Church will be celebrating the feast day of St. Scholastica. Fewer people are aware that today the Church, especially in Malta, also celebrates the Feast of the Shipwreck of St. Paul.
Looking at these twin feasts side by side tells us something about our faith, our prayers, and God’s providence for us.
St. Scholastica’s Storm, an Answered Prayer
Lately, in my reading of the Lives of the Saints, I feel like I have been coming across endless numbers of martyrs with heroic through tragic stories of earning their crown of sainthood through suffering. Suffering is a real part of life and especially a life of faith. We have to pick up our cross and follow Christ. Yet, we can’t lose sight of the joys of our faith as well.
Scholastica’s story was a welcome reminder for me that God is a loving father who wants to give good gifts (cf Matt 7:11).
St. Scholastica and the Storm
If you don’t know St. Scholastica, here is her famous answered prayer documented by St. Gregory the Great in 593.
“For [St. Benedict’s] sister called Scholastica, dedicated from her infancy to our Lord, used once a year to come and visit her brother… they spent the whole day in the praises of God and spiritual talk… talking of devout matters, and darkness came on, the holy Nun his sister entreated him to stay there all night, that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven.
But by no persuasion would he agree unto that, … At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, receiving this denial of her brother, joining her hands together, laid them upon the table : and so, bowing down her head upon them, she made her prayers to almighty God : and lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Bennet, nor his monks that were with him, could put their head out of door :… and her prayer and the rain did so meet together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder began, so that in one and the very same instant, she lifted up her head and brought down the rain.
The man of God, seeing that he could not by reason of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain, return back to his Abbey, began to be heavy and to complain of his sister, saying : “God forgive you, what have you done?” to whom she answered: “I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me, I have desired our good Lord, and he hath vouchsafed to grant my petition“…
But the good father, being not able to go forth, tarried there against his will, where willingly before he would not stay. And so by that means they watched all night, and with spiritual and heavenly talk did mutually comfort one another : … he found that a miracle did prevent his desire, which, by the power of almighty God, a woman’s prayers had wrought. And it is not a thing to be marveled at, that a woman which of long time had not seen her brother, might do more at that time than he could, seeing, according to the saying of St. John, God is charity, and therefore of right she did more which loved more.The Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, Book II, Chapter XXXIII
Reading this story is a reminder that God knows what we desire in our hearts, he wants our joy (John 15:11). When our desires are Good and uniform with His Will for our lives, he wants to give these things to us, especially if we ask Him.
In Scholastica’s case, her desire was holy friendship and fraternal love directed to God.
On Perfect Friendship
Reading about Benedict and Scholastica, I can’t help but be reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote that my own brother and our good friend would bring up to describe these kinds of moments of joyful, holy conversation. I like to picture the Saints having an evening like this too:
In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?C.S. Lewis – The Four Loves
I would only add “or holiest” to the list of best, wisest, or funniest in this quote. These are the kinds of friendship that is a gift given to us by God, our Good Father.
Throughout the sufferings of life, these are the moments of sweetness that are a foretaste of Heaven. They can allow us to experience the kind of goodness that is worth suffering for.
St. Paul’s Shipwreck a Gift for Malta
St. Paul was a prisoner on board this ship heading to where he would be tried. However, before he would ever reach Rome, God had plans for St. Paul to reach the people of Malta. Through the gift of this storm, the people on the island of Malta received St. Paul and all on board the ship graciously, and through him, received their Catholic faith.
Here there was no direct intercession for the storm. It was a plan not foreseen by anyone; yet, God’s providence provided for entire generations of people, since 60 AD, to know his Goodness and Love.
The Maltese people celebrate this day like it’s their Independence Day, with city-wide festivals and fireworks. They continue to recognize the gift of this storm.* **
Are You Scholastica, Paul, or Both?
God sees and hears your desires. He knows what you long for and why you long for it. If, like St. Scholastica, you are longing for a good of your soul, then God may just change the weather on the spot for you. However, like St. Paul, God could also use a storm to shipwreck you in order to enact his Will and a plan that you could not have foreseen.
At times, I feel like God is gifting me everything I want. Other times, I find myself asking God “Why?!” In both of these moments, I need to remind myself to ride out the storms that He sends me, because whether I asked for it or not, it is could be a gift.
*This hotel in Valletta has a great write-up about the Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, along with great photos. Read that HERE.
**This Maltese priest has a great collection about this feast and what some of the Popes and Saints have said about St. Paul’s Shipwreck.
Lastly, I found a website with great details on celebrating this Feast with photos of The Church of St. Paul Shipwrecked, and a great looking Maltese recipe!