This is, I kid you not, one of my favorite days of the year. It’s St. Scholastica’s feast day, and we don’t know a ton about her other than that she was the sister of St. Benedict and the abbess of a community of cloistered women. And in the Liturgy of the Hours (the prayer of the Church) every year today, there is a reading from the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great explaining how her brother and some of his community would come to visit her once a year. One year, she asked him to stay and keep talking about the things of God. Here’s Gregory:
One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.
Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”
When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly, he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so, I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”
Reluctant as he 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.
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.
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. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.
Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.
I just love that story. Because I’ve been known to keep men — and women — talking about God. Not because I have the greater love, but because I want to. And there’s no better way than getting to know the God who created you better than among friends who want to grow in that same kind of love.
This has been a sick kind of year — the pandemic started shutting things down in March of last year, including religious services. I’m so grateful for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and everyone who has stepped up to the plate to witness to the fact that religion is essential. It’s one of the things — and other mediating institutions — that Alexis de Tocqueville observed was some of the best of us. I wonder how many young people read him anymore.
Anyway, I just wanted to share that story for anyone who is interested and encourage you in spending time basking in the fundamentals. As dark at New York City is these days, I try to catch some of the colors of the sunrise or sunset. There’s so much more than we see that is provided by a God who is good. Remember gratitude. Remember God.
And: St. Scholastica, pray for us.
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