Sister Lynne Smith's Homily on the Feast of Saint Scholastica from February 10, 2013

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Homily – Feast of Saint Scholastica
February 10, 2013

Mark 3:31-35

Many of you may know the story of Scholastica. According to tradition, she was the twin sister of Benedict who wrote the Rule Benedictines follow. They lived in Italy in the sixth century. What we know about Scholastica comes from the Dialogues of Gregory the Great in which he writes about various saints to inspire the people of his time. Gregory is asked whether the saints are able to do everything they wish and obtain all that they desire.  In response, he says there was one time when Benedict was not able to obtain something he desired.

The story goes that Benedict and Scholastica met each year in a small house midway between their monasteries. On one such occasion, after a day filled with deep and richly satisfying prayer and conversation, evening fell and Benedict prepared to leave. “Scholastica said: ‘Do not leave me tonight, but let us talk till morning of the joys of heaven.’ Benedict answered: ‘Impossible, dear sister, I may not spend the night outside my cell.’ At this she clasped her hands and bowed her head in prayer. When she raised her head, there was thunder and lightning and such a torrential rain that Benedict could not leave the house where they were.

Benedict was saddened and complained to her: ‘God have mercy on you, sister! What have you done!’ She replied: ‘I asked you and you would not listen to me. So I asked God and God listened.’

Gregory comments: “It ought not surprise us that she won out. John tells us that ‘God is love.’ It was inevitable that she who loved more would accomplish more.” Benedict’s authority and strict adherence to the Rule was no match for the power of Scholastica’s love for God shown in her desire to continue conversing about the joys of heaven.

The gospel lesson for today is also about power and authority. Jesus’ family has come to exert their power over him to take him away. They are afraid for his safety and think he has gone out of his mind. The scribes, who represent religious authority are also out to get him. They think that Jesus’ power to cast out demons comes from Satan. It can’t be from God since Jesus is breaking religious law.

In Jesus’ day, the power of the family and of religious tradition was very strong. But here we see Jesus is free from the hold of both institutions over him. His deep listening to the Spirit has freed him. So, Jesus redefines family. Anyone who does the will of God can be in his family.

Now it isn’t always easy to say definitively what the will of God is in any particular situation, but because Jesus reveals God’s nature in his actions, we can say this much. God wills healing and wholeness, reconciliation and forgiveness, freedom and abundant life for all.

What powers keep us captive? In the US the influence of materialism and militarism have a strong hold over the choices and decisions we make both collectively and individually. The power of patriarchy is strong in many branches of the Christian church. Our own families have great power over us for good or ill. On the spiritual journey we are called to become more and more free from everything that would stand in the way of loving as God’s loves.

The spiritual journey may call us to grow beyond some of the ways our families and society have formed us in order to follow Christ. This growth often involves internal struggle and can put us in conflict with members of our family or other authorities. We have experienced that as a community. It also happens to us personally.

Nils Stroube, a pastor from Arkansas, writes of growing up in the deep south in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s where he resisted the civil rights movement. He had been taught white supremacy and racism – not by mean and terrible people but by caring people such as his mother and church leaders. They themselves “were captive to racism and had come to accept that racism was the way to find and maintain life.”

But then, he writes, “As I came to hear other voices from God’s Spirit – voices that told me that racism was not God’s will – I began to be in internal conflict with my family and my community. It was a struggle and continues to be a struggle at some points.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3, “Homiletical Perspective,” p. 121)

We can probably each identify internal struggles like that where we have sought more freedom. Struggles in which the powers we have internalized and once trusted no longer fit with what we hear from the Spirit – perhaps around racism, sexism, patriarchy, material values.

As we enter the season of Lent, this is a good time to become aware of the subtle powers that hold us captive – those areas of our lives where the Spirit is calling us to more freedom to love.

Benedictine spiritual practices are aimed toward helping us grow in freedom and the love of God. Spiritual practices such as listening and dialogue, hospitality to the stranger, centering prayer and lectio divina open us to a new word from the Spirit. The practices of humility and conversion of life help us let go of old ways that no longer serve life.

Throughout this year we are offering various opportunities through the Going Deeper series to learn some of these practices, engage in conversation and challenge those internal voices that keep us from loving as we might.

Together, with the help of the Spirit, we grow in freedom and service to God and all people.

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