The Last Visit of Scholastica and Benedict

Saint Scholastica (+543) was the sister – some sources say the twin – of Saint Benedict. Like her brother, she forsook everything to follow Christ, setting up a community of virgins at the foot of her brother’s monastery, Monte Cassino, where she followed the path of orans et laborans, praying and working, which forms the basis of Benedictine spirituality. In fact, such is in some way the path of all Christians, to ‘pray and work’ for the kingdom, for souls, one’s own, and all those around us.

Her name is derived from the Greek schola, which means ‘leisure’ – not loafing around, but, rather, leaving space in all the chaos of life for contemplation, thought, study, reflection and, of course, God. It is where we get the concept of a ‘school’. All education should, in the end, be a preparation for eternity.

The most famous story of Scholastica is from Saint Gregory the Great (+604) – where we derive most of what details we have of her life. Benedict and some of his fellow monks were visiting her outside of their monastery, and the conversation and company being so delightful, they shared a meal. The after-dinner discussion going late, Scholastica asked them to prolong their stay. Benedict remonstrated, that a monk should not spend the night away from his cell. So Scholastica ‘folded her hands, placed her head on the table and prayed’, and God sent such a thunderstorm and deluge that they simply could not depart.

As Pope Gregory put it:

Reluctant as (Benedict) was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

Against Benedict’s will, perhaps, but not God’s:

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.

And, really, is it not in the end all about love, and finding our peace in God’s holy will? For it turns out that this would be the last meeting between the two holy siblings:

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven

Benedict had his monks take her body, and place it in the grave he had prepared for himself; he would follow her four years hence, and that is where their bodies both rest, awaiting the resurrection, while their souls rejoice together in beatitude. Would that all our family ties – so fractious in today’s world – be seen sub specie aeternitatis, under the aspect of eternity, for only such does this passing life make any sense at all.

Let us indeed speak of heavenly things.

Saint Scholastica, ora pro nobis!

(ByJohn Paul Meenan, Editor of Catholic Insight)

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