Have you ever heard of Saint Scholastica? She was the twin sister of Saint Benedict of Nursia and is regarded as the foundress of Western female monasticism. She was born in central Italy in the year 480, and died of natural causes on February 10th, 543. As she lived pre-schism, she is venerated in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Her feast day is February 10th.
If you’ve ever been to St. Patrick’s here in Montreal, you know there are mosaics of individual saints all around the basilica. There is a mosaic of Saint Scholastica on one of the pillars in the back, where she is depicted holding a red book and a crosier.
According to Benedictine tradition, Saint Scholastica founded a monastery near her brother’s in Monte Cassino, Italy. There is some historical debate as to whether this was a “real” monastery with a community of women having taken formal vows, or whether it was more like a “house monastery” with her and a few other consecrated women living on her family’s estate.
We don’t know that much about Saint Scholastica, though. The only source of information is from Saint Gregory the Great, who, in his Dialogues, recounts a meeting between her and Saint Benedict. Apparently, the brother and sister met once a year, with each leaving their respective monasteries. They talked about spiritual matters and encouraged one another in their Christian vocation. At the end of one of these meetings, Scholastica asked Benedict to stay longer. He said no, that he couldn’t be away from his monastery that long. She then bowed her head in prayer and soon after the weather turned from pleasant to thunder and rain. Travel back to his monastery was out of the question, so Benedict stayed the night with his sister and they continued their spiritual conversation.
It turns out that Scholastica was hurt that her brother wasn’t listening to her, so she turned to God in prayer, since He always listens. That was how the weather changed and they got to spend more time together! Saint Gregory writes, “Is it not a thing to be marveled at, that a woman, who for a long time had not seen her brother, might do more in that instance than he could? She realized, according to the saying of St. John, “God is love”. Therefore, as is right, she who loved more, did more.” (http://www.osb.org/gen/scholastica.html)
Gender assumptions aside, this is true: she was able to do more because she loved more. I used to read Magnificat magazine, which, in the February 2011 edition, included this reflection: “Christ’s love for St. Scholastica and her love for Him spilled over into a lively and determined love for her brother, St. Benedict. Her love gave her prayer a power that startled even that holy man.” It all comes down to love. If we want to do more for God, we need to grow in our relationship with Him, because love is the only real source of power and strength we have.
I first heard of Saint Scholastica as a child, in a book called “The Holy Twins” (written by Kathleen Norris and illustrated by Tomie dePaola). The picture below is from this book. I love it because it shows the natural affection she and her brother had for each other. Saint Gregory writes that when Scholastica died, Benedict saw her soul “ascend into heaven in the likeness of a dove”, and then sent his monks to bring her corpse to his monastery so he could bury it in his own (future) grave. He concludes this story by writing, “By this means it fell out that, as their souls were always one in God while they lived, so their bodies continued together after their death.” Sometimes in hagiographies it seems like affection for others is depicted as wrong, but in this story, we see that it was exactly their relationship that helped each on their path to God. We need the love and support of others!
I’ll end with the collect for the day:
As we celebrate anew the Memorial of the Virgin Saint Scholastica, we pray, O Lord, that, following her example, we may serve you with pure love and happily receive what comes from loving you. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
(Photo from: http://tomiesblog.blogspot.ca/2012/11/limited-edition-holy-twins-print.html)