Very little is known about St. Scholastica. Most of our information comes in the form of a single story, related most probably by Pope St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century.
According to St. Gregory, St. Benedict had a sister, perhaps a twin, named Scholastica. Consecrated to the Lord as a child, she would visit her brother once a year at a place close to his monastery. On what would be their last visit in this life, brother and sister spent the whole day praising God and talking together. After they had dinner and it grew late, Scholastica asked him if he would remain and talk some more, to which Benedict replied, “What are you talking about, my sister? Under no circumstances can I stay outside my cell.” This may be because his own Benedictine rules required a monk traveling locally to return to the monastery the same day he left under pain of excommunication.
Here we get a little insight into Scholastica’s personality and into the passage from Mark’s Gospel as well. After hearing his answer, she folded her hands on the table, leaned her head down on her hands, and prayed. As she raised her head, a thunderstorm broke out with rain so intense that Benedict was forced to remain where he was. Seeing this, he became irritated and said, “May God have mercy on you, my sister. Why have you done this?” With tears in her eyes, she replied, “I asked you, and you would not listen to me. So I asked my Lord, and he has listened to me. Now then, go, if you can. Leave me, and go back to the monastery.” Of course, St. Benedict stayed and they talked through the night.
Pope St. Gregory concluded, “It is no wonder that the woman who had desired to see her brother that day proved at the same time that she was more powerful than he was. For as John says: God is love, and according to that most just precept, she proved more powerful because she loved more.”
From this we learn two things. First, even a saint as great as Benedict had to be reminded, as Christ reminds all of us in the Gospel, not to disregard the commandment of God by clinging to traditions of our own making. What is the commandment of God? To love Him above all things and our neighbor for love of Him. The rule of St. Benedict was and remains a masterpiece of spiritual discipline and tradition in the Benedictine community. Nevertheless, St. Scholastica’s great love demonstrated that it is not proper to cling to any tradition at the expense of the commandment to love as God loves.
Second we learn that, although we may not live by the rule of St. Benedict, our personal rules and habits can get in the way of advancement in the spiritual life. Being human, we are subject to forming habits; however, a routine prayer life invites dryness. Even worse, interruptions in our routine become obstacles that cause us to lose perspective. I know it’s probably never happened to you, but we all know people who have gotten upset upon walking into Mass only to find someone sitting in “their” pew! Allowing such things to be a distraction is a sure sign that our prayer habits might have become more important than the One they are intended to honor.
Let us allow St. Scholastica’s thunderstorm to remind us that whatever hinders our spiritual growth – whether dryness in prayer or irritation when our routines are interrupted – is waiting, with a little effort on our part, to be washed away in the love, grace, and mercy of God that constantly rain all around us.
St. Scholastica, pray for us.