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Holiness in a Hard World: St. Scholastica for Today
The twin of her brother St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Scholastica was a fascinating and powerful saint in her own right. She and her brother were born and lived in the time after the fall of Rome. Barbarian tribes had conquered Rome and set up warring kingdoms throughout Europe and even in Italy. In Italy, barbarian king warred against barbarian king, and then against the Eastern Emperor Justinian, who regarded the germanic tribes as interlopers and proposed to reconquer the Western Roman Empire.
Justinian largely failed, but his attempt led to more war, death, destruction, and violence. Benedict and Scholastica looked at this world sadly, seeking to love holy lives amidst the chaos. Benedict himself proposed to live as a hermit, but found that he could not escape the monastic life when admirers, drawn to him, wanted to live with him. He quickly found himself the head of a monastic community devoted to work and prayer, founding several other religious communities as well. His sister Scholasticafound herself at the head of a large community of nuns.
Benedict and Scholastica lived, worked, and prayed, giving important testimony to a world in chaos. The simple rule of life that Benedict proposed saw the monks as a family and devoted to a communal life. There, Benedict and Scholastica lived holy lives of work, prayer, penance, and fasts. They sought to live holy lives and prayed for sinners and men and women who would not pray for themselves. Their monasteries stood as islands of peace and holiness in a sea of what must often have seemed to be a wicked, violent world far from God.
As great a saint. as Benedict was, he found his sister a match for him. One of the most charming stories of the two tells how Benedict and Scholastica met, as they did once per year, in the company of some fellow monks and nuns. They enjoyed each other’s company and spoke of God while the day lasted. Night grew near and ordinarily, Benedict would have left. It was against the rule for a monk to spend the night away from his monastery, and so Benedict made ready to leave.
His sister, however, felt her death approaching and wished him to stay to speak further. She asked him to delay his departure. Benedict, however, thinking of his duty to keep his rule, refused. When she found him resolute, St. Scholastica simply put her hands together and prayed.
Immediately a massive and dangerous storm blew up, such that Benedict could not leave. He turned to his sister in annoyance, asking, “Sister, what have you done, may God forgive you!” His sister explained, in perfect calm, that while Benedict had not heard her, God had,d and had granted her request. Beaten, Benedict stayed through the night, speaking with his sister about God.
A few days thereafter, she fell ill and died. Benedict saw his sister’s soul ascending to heaven like a dove.
We cannot all be monks and nuns like Benedict and Scholastica, but we can honor them: men and women who seek to live holy lives in community amidst the chaos of a wicked world that too often seems to have forgotten God. We can try to live our own families on the model of them: holy lives of work, prayer, and penance, constantly supporting one another with prayer and exhortation as did the saintly twins.
We can make our own homes into holy communities amidst the world’s storms. If we do as Christ says and wills, then we will be like the ones who built our houses on rock: the rain falls, the floods come, and the winds buffet it, but our home, founded on Him, secured by faith, will not collapse.
Ss. Scholastica and Benedict, Pray for Us.