Acta Sanctorum: St. Scholastica (Feb 10)
February 10, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

February 10
 
St. Scholastica
 
Life. (+ 543)
 

One of the beneficial contributions of contemporary feminism is that it has made historians conscious of the scarcity of biographical studies of eminent women. Much has been written, for instance, about the great monastic pioneer, St. Benedict of Nursia. History records very little, however, about his sister St. Scholastica. But she, too, was a pioneer in the development of women’s monasticism. Here is her story, as far as the data allow us to recount it.

Scholastica, not only Benedict’s sister, but traditionally his twin, was naturally also a native of Nursia (now Norcia) in central Italy. They were the children of distinguished parents. Influenced, it seems, by her brother’s example of becoming a monk, she apparently dedicated herself early to the monastic service of God. The first evidence we have of this is her ruling a convent at Subiaco, not far from her brother’s first cliff-hanging monastery. When he moved his monastic center to Monte Cassino near Naples, she also moved hers. In both cases, Benedict was the director of his monks and her nuns. Brother Benedict was very strict in his dealings with women religious. He allowed even his sister to visit with him only once a year, and then not in the monastery but at a midway house. She nevertheless looked forward with joy to these annual meetings, during which they would spend the time praising God and speaking on matters of the soul.

The earliest biographer of Benedict, St. Gregory the Great, tells us practically nothing about the monk’s sister except to recount the remarkable last meeting they had. The story tells us about the traits of these kindred spirits.

At their meeting in 543, after the two had passed the day in devout conversation and had finished supper, Scholastica asked her brother if they could not continue their colloquy on the joys of heaven throughout the night. Perhaps she had a premonition that this would be their final get-together on earth. St. Benedict, shocked by a request that went counter to the monastic rule, said he could not in conscience consent. Thereupon, with a show of holy stubbornness, his sister bent down over the table in prayer. She had scarcely lifted her head when a heavy cloudburst broke out, so intense as to prevent St. Benedict and his companions from even stepping out-of-doors. “God forgive you, sister,” Benedict said in reproach “what have you done?” “I asked a favor of you and you refused it,” she answered, perhaps with a cute toss of the head. “I asked it of God, and He has granted it.” Foiled, St. Benedict did agree to resume their conversation on the glories of heaven. Both found it a discussion worth remembering. Dawn brought the tempest to an end, and brother and sister parted. Three days later, as Benedict prayed in his monastery cell, he saw his sister’s soul, in the form of a dove, ascending to heaven. Rejoicing rather than sorrowing, for the knowledge of her being in heaven canceled the grief of his loss, he had her body buried in the same tomb at his monastery on Monte Cassino that he had constructed for himself. “So it happened to these two,” wrote St. Gregory, “that even in the grave their bodies were not separated.”

Do the relics of the two remain in their original tomb? There is a credible story that in the seventh century Benedict’s original monastery fell empty, hence the bones of both were transposed for greater safety to the Benedictine monastery at Fleury in France. Yet in the 11th century, Abbot Desiderius of Monte Cassino happened upon what he considered the real relics in an undisturbed sepulcher at Monte Cassino.

Which set of relics is the authentic one remains an unsettled question. But whether you pray to these two notable saints at Fleury or in their chapel at Monte Cassino, you may be sure that they will hear you equally well.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture.  Song of Solomon 8:6-7
 
Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
he would be roundly mocked.
 
(Year B).   The monastic life of women and the cloister deserve special attention because of the great esteem in which the Christian community holds this type of life, which is a sign of the exclusive union of the Church as Bride with her Lord, whom she loves above all things. Indeed, the life of cloistered nuns, devoted in a special way to prayer, to asceticism and diligent progress in the spiritual life, "is nothing other than a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem and an anticipation of the eschatological Church immutable in its possession and contemplation of God". In the light of this vocation and ecclesial mission, the cloister responds to the need, felt as paramount, to be with the Lord. Choosing an enclosed space where they will live their lives, cloistered nuns share in Christ's emptying of himself by means of a radical poverty, expressed in their renunciation not only of things but also of "space", of contacts, of so many benefits of creation. This particular way of offering up the "body" allows them to enter more fully into the Eucharistic mystery. They offer themselves with Jesus for the world's salvation. Their offering, besides its elements of sacrifice and expiation, takes on the aspect of thanksgiving to the Father, by sharing in the thanksgiving of the beloved Son.
 
The cloister brings to mind that space in the heart where every person is called to union with the Lord. Accepted as a gift and chosen as a free response of love, the cloister is the place of spiritual communion with God and with the brethren, where the limitation of space and contacts works to the advantage of interiorizing Gospel values (cf. Jn 13:34; Mt 5:3, 8). Even in the simplicity of their life, cloistered communities, set like cities on a hilltop or lights on a lampstand (cf. Mt 5:14-15), visibly represent the goal towards which the entire community of the Church travels. "Eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation", the Church advances down the paths of time with her eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ, when she will appear "in glory with her Spouse (cf. Col 3:1-4)", and Christ will deliver "the Kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power ... that God may be everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:24, 28). (Pope John Paul II; Vita consacrata)
 
Musical Selection
 
 
Hymnis angélicis ora resólvimus,
Let us melt angelic hymns with our lips
Dum terréna fluunt nocte siléntia :
While the earthly silences flow into the night;
Cæléstes módulos virgo Scholástica
The virgin Scholastica commands heavenly
Puris méntibus ímperat.
Melodies to pure minds.
 
Gentis Nursíadum stémmate nóbilis,
Noble for the lineage of Norcia,
Agni virgíneo fœ́dere clárior,
Brighter than the virginal covenant with the Lamb,
Sponsi perpétuis fragrat odóribus,
Fragrant with the eternal perfumes of the Bridegroom,
Cordis vúlnere púlchrior.
More beautiful for the wound of the heart.
 
Fervens innócuis páscitur ígnibus,
Fiery She feeds on innocent flames,
Et majóra petit pábula cáritas;
Her love for her requires more fertile pastures:
Ut frater súperum gáudia dísserat,
Let the Brother speak to her of heavenly joys,
Virgo fórtior ímpetrat.
She asks the Virgin so strongly.
 
O noctis plácidæ dúlcia témpora !
O sweet moments of a clear night!
Quæ cæli dápibus pectus inébriant,
Which intoxicate the heart with heavenly food,
Dum pandit cúpidis sermo vicárius
While the vicar discourse reveals divinity
Jesu numen amábile.
Lovable of Jesus to the cupids.
 
Cordis vera quies, ínclyta Trínitas,
O inclita Trinity, true peace of heart,
Quæ vultus sátias lúmine cǽlites :
Satisfy the sky with the light of your face:
Sit te dulce loqui, dúlcius ássequi,
May it be sweet to talk about You, sweeter to follow You
Et per sǽcula pérfrui. Amen.
And enjoy yourself for everlasting centuries. Amen.
 
Collect
 
Lord our God, 
you robed the virgin Scholastica 
with the beauty and splendour of innocence. 
Help us to walk blamelessly before you, 
that we may praise your name for ever, 
and find our delight in you; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God, now and for ever.  Amen. (English Missal)

 

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