Homily February 10, 2019
Feast of St. Scholastica Lynne Smith, OSB
We have only one story about Saint Scholastica, that of her last meeting with Benedict, her twin brother. I know many of you know the story, but I’m going to tell it again this morning because it has an important message for us. The story is found in the second book of Dialogues by Pope Gregory the Great. Within the past few decades, Gregory’s authorship of the Dialogues has been called into question. It’s possible that the Dialogues were written after Gregory’s time under his name which was common in ancient times. However, for ease of reference, I will refer to Gregory as the author here.
The second book of the Dialogues is entitled “The Life and Miracles of the Blessed Father Benedict.” It’s not a biography or an historical account of Benedict’s life. Instead, Gregory presents Benedict as a “type”/example of a person of God. The stories are presented in the form of a dialogue with Gregory’s friend, Peter the Deacon. This story of Benedict and Scholastica is told in response to Peter asking whether “the saints are able to do everything they wish, and do they obtain all that they desire.” Benedict once wished for something that he could not obtain. The story tells us why. The icon on the bulletin cover depicts this story.
So here it is. Benedict and Scholastica, each lived in their own monasteries. They were accustomed to meet once a year to talk about God and spiritual matters. On this occasion, at supper, Scholastica asked Benedict to stay longer so they could continue their conversation through the night. Benedict had strict rules about not spending the night outside the monastery and refused to stay. So Scholastica bowed her head on her hands and prayed to God with tears. When she raised her head, such a violent rainstorm erupted that neither Benedict nor his brothers with him could return to their monastery. Gregory explains that Scholastica’s prayer and tears brought on the rain storm.
Benedict complains, “May God almighty pardon you, sister! What have you done?”
Scholastica replies, “See, I asked you and you wouldn’t listen to me. I asked my [God who] listened. Go now, if you can. Leave me and go back to the monastery.”
But Benedict is unable to leave, and they spend the night in vigil and spiritual conversation. The next day Benedict returns to his monastery and three days later Scholatica dies.
In commenting on the story, Gregory says, “[It is no] surprise that the woman who wished to see her brother for a longer time was on this occasion stronger than he, for according to the words of John, ‘God is love,’ and by an altogether fair judgment, she was able to do more because she loved more.”
If those last words sound familiar, you might remember the story in Luke’s Gospel of the ‘sinful’ woman who anoints Jesus’ feet at table in Simon, the Pharisee’s house. Simon objects, so Jesus tells a parable of two debtors and asks Simon which of the two debtors will love the creditor more. Simon answers, “The one…to whom he forgave more.” (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus says of the woman, “Her many sins are forgiven because she has loved much.”
For Benedictines, the Rule of Benedict is our guide for living the Gospel life in community. However, living the Rule without love or being a Christian and following the commandments without compassion is not enough. This story is an important corrective when we are tempted to put rules above mercy or separate the will of God from love. We know how easily we humans turn religion and living a “good, moral” life into following the rules. Christians have often made the leap from following rules to assuming God relates to us on a merit system. Time and again, we need to be called back to the priority of mercy, love, and compassion. Often we are called back to this mercy by those who “love us more” as Scholastica did Benedict.
In spite of the many images we have in the Bible of a vengeful God smiting people left and right for their sinful deeds, at the heart of God’s relationship with human beings is not vengeance or punishment but love. Our first reading from Sirach offers the classic description of God that was revealed to Moses. “God is compassionate and merciful; forgiving sins and saving in time of distress.” (Sirach 2:11)
If we think about the people who have had the most impact for the good on our lives, is it not those who have loved us more? And the positive impact that you have had on others, has it not been because you loved them more, more perhaps, than they could love themselves at the time?
Chapter 72 from the Rule of Benedict on the good spirit that should inspire monastic life comes toward the end of the Rule and was perhaps written after Benedict had this experience with Scholastica. It provides the practices that foster this good spirit. Respect, patience with weaknesses, mutual obedience, concern for the good of others, love and valuing Christ above all. These are the daily practices that bind Christian community together. As a Benedictine community of communities, we strive to foster this good spirit among us. We have Jesus, Scholastica and Benedict as our guides as we walk together as sisters and brothers of Jesus. May God bring us all together to eternal life.