The sister of the Patriarch Saint Benedict comes to us today, sweetly inviting us to follow her to heaven. Apollonia the Martyr is succeeded by Scholastica the fervent daughter of the Cloister. Both of them are the Spouses of Jesus, both of them wear a crown, for both of them fought hard, and won the palm. Apollonia’s battle was with cruel persecutors, and in those hard times when one had to die to conquer; Scholastica’s combat was the life-long struggle, whose only truce is the soldier’s dying breath. The Martyr and the Nun are sisters now in the Heart of Him they both so bravely loved.
God, in his infinite wisdom, gave to St. Benedict a faithful co-operatrix,–a sister of such angelic gentleness of character, that she would be a sort of counterpoise to the brother, whose vocation, as the legislator of monastic life, needed a certain dignity of grave and stern resolve. We continually meet with these contrasts in the lives of the saints; and they show us that there is a link, of which flesh and blood know nothing; a link which binds two souls together, gives them power, harmonises their differences of character, and renders each complete. Thus it is in heaven with the several hierarchies of the Angels; a mutual love, which is founded on God Himself, unites them together, and makes them live in the eternal happiness of the tenderest brotherly affection.
Scholastica’s earthly pilgrimage was not a short one; and yet it has left us but the history of the Dove, which told the brother, by its flight to heaven, that his sister had reached the eternal home before him. We have to thank St. Gregory the Great for even this much, which he tells us as a sequel to the holy dispute she had with Benedict, three days previous to her death. But how admirable is the portrait thus drawn in St. Gregory’s best style! We seem to understand the whole character of Scholastica:–an earnest simplicity, and a child-like eagerness, for what was worth her desiring it; an affectionate and unshaken confidence in God; a winning persuasiveness, where there was opposition to God’s will, which, when it met such an opponent as Benedict, called on God to interpose, and gained its cause. The old poets tell us strange things about the swan, how sweetly it can sing when dying; how lovely must not have been the last notes of the Dove of the Benedictine Cloister, as she was soaring from earth to heaven!
But how came Scholastica, the humble retiring Nun, by that energy, which could make her resist the will of her brother, whom she revered as her master and guide? What was it told her that her prayer was not a rash one, and that what she asked for was a higher good than Benedict’s unflinching fidelity to the Rule he had written, and which it was his duty to teach by his own keeping it? Let us hear St. Gregory’s answer: “It is not to be wondered at, that the sister, who wished to prolong her brother’s stay, should have prevailed over him; for, whereas St. John tells us, that God is Charity, it happened by a most just judgment, that she that had the stronger love, had the stronger power.”
Our Season is appropriate for the beautiful lesson taught us by St. Scholastica,–fraternal charity. Her example should excite us to the love of our neighbor, that love which God bids us labour for, now that we are intent on giving Him our undivided service, and our complete conversion. The Easter Solemnity we are preparing for, is to unite us all in the grand Banquet, where we are all to feast on the one Divine Victim of Love. Let us have our nuptial garment ready; for He that invites us, insists on our having union of heart when we dwell in his House (Ps. lxvii. 7.)
The Church has inserted in her Office of this Feast the account given by St. Gregory of the last interview between St. Scholastica and St. Benedict. It is as follows:
From the 2nd book of the Dialogues of Saint Gregory, Pope.
Scholastica was the sister of the venerable father Benedict. She had been consecrated to Almighty God from her very infancy, and was accustomed to visit her brother once a year. The man of God came down to meet her at a house belonging to the monastery, not far from the gate. It was the day for the usual visit, and her venerable brother came down to her accompanied by some of his brethren. The whole day was spent in the praises of God and holy conversation; and at night-fall, they took their repast together. Whilst they were at table, and it grew late as they conferred with each other on sacred things, the holy Nun thus spoke to her brother: “I beseech thee, stay the night “with me, and let us talk till morning on the joys of heaven.” He replied: “What is this thou sayest, sister? On no account may I remain out of the monastery. The evening was so fair, that not a cloud could be seen in the sky.” When, therefore, the holy nun heard her brother’s refusal, she clasped her hands together, and, resting them on the table, she hid her face in them, and made a prayer to the God of all power. As soon as she raised her head from the table, there came down so great a storm of thunder and lightning, and rain, that neither the venerable Benedict, nor the brethren who were with him, could set foot outside the place where they were sitting.
The holy virgin had shed a flood of tears as she leaned her head upon the table, and the cloudless sky poured down the wished-for rain. The prayer was said, the rain fell in torrents; there was no interval; but so closely on each other were prayer and rain, that the storm came as she raised her head. Then the man of God, seeing that it was impossible to reach his monastery amidst all this lightning, thunder, and rain, was sad, and said complainingly: “God forgive thee, sister! What hast thou done?” But she replied: “I asked thee a favour,” and thou wouldst not hear me; I asked it of my God, and He granted it. Go, now, if thou canst, to the monastery, and leave me here!” But it was not in his power to stir from the place; so that, he who would not stay willingly, had to stay unwillingly, and spend the whole night with his sister, delighting each other with their questions and answers about the secrets of spiritual life.
On the morrow, the holy woman returned to her monastery, and the man of God to his. When lo! three days after, he was in his cell; and raising his eyes, he saw the soul of his sister going up to heaven, in the shape of a dove. Full of joy at her being thus glorified, he thanked his God in hymns of praise, and told the brethren of her death. He straightways bade them go and bring her body to the monastery; which having done, he had it buried in the tomb he had prepared for himself. Thus it was, that, as they had ever been one soul in God, their bodies were united in the same grave.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.