February 10: Saint Scholastica, Virgin—Memorial
(Optional Memorial if Lenten weekday)
Patron Saint of nuns, school, tests, reading, convulsive children
Invoked against storms and rain
Liturgical Color: White (Purple if Lenten Weekday)
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. ~Dialogues, Saint Gregory the Great
Little is known about the life of Saint Scholastica, yet her influence upon the Church is undeniable. She was born into a wealthy family around the year 480 AD, in the town of Nursia, central Italy, shortly after the fall of the Western Roman emperor. It was a chaotic time, politically speaking, but also a time when God began to manifest His divine stability through her. She had one brother, most likely a twin, by the name of Benedict. Benedict and Scholastica are now honored as great saints. Both had a powerful influence upon monastic life as we have it today, Benedict being the father of Western monasticism and Scholastica its mother.
As a child, Scholastica dedicated herself to the service of God, taking no interest in the things of this world. She lived modestly, despite being raised in a wealthy home. When Benedict left home to become a hermit and to eventually found a monastery with a new monastic rule, she marveled at his hidden life of prayer and work. His vocation called out to her, and she received permission from the local bishop to enter a home of virgins who chose to adopt Benedict’s new monastic rule. Benedict assisted them and made Scholastica the abbess of the home.
Benedict’s new form of monasticism focused on forming permanent, self-contained, and self-supporting monasteries that followed a strict regimen of prayer and work. After aspirants’ callings were tested for a period of time, they made vows, permanently committing themselves to God and the community. Their lives became structured and ordered under the direction of an abbot or abbess to whom the monks and nuns vowed obedience. Soon after Benedict’s humble monastery on Monte Cassino began to bloom, Scholastica received permission to adopt his rule with a group of virgins, making them the first convent of Benedictine nuns. In the centuries to follow, their way of life spread far and wide across the Western world.
In his book Dialogues, Pope Saint Gregory captures the holy love that Benedict and Scholastica shared. Though Scholastica’s convent was only a few miles from Benedict’s monastery, the two would only get together once a year, in keeping with their strict rule of life. Those meetings fanned into flames their shared love for God and the fruits of their prayer and mutual calling to this new way of life. Each year they met at a nearby house and spent the day conversing on the holiest of topics. When these twins were around the age of 63, they met for what would be their final conversation on earth. They spent the day praising God and engaged in spiritual talk. After a light dinner, Benedict announced that he and his companions needed to leave and return to the monastery. Scholastica begged him to stay so that they could continue conversing about God throughout the night. Benedict responded to her, “Sister, what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.” Scholastica knew, however, that their holy conversation needed to continue, so she bowed her head in prayer, and God sent forth a lightning storm so powerful that Benedict and his brothers could not leave. Scholastica’s love for Benedict and her desire to continue with the praises of God throughout the night met with God’s approval and God provided the way. They parted the next day, and three days later, Benedict had a vision of his sister’s soul being taken to Heaven in the form of a dove. He had his brothers bring her body to the monastery, and Scholastica was buried in the grave intended for Benedict. Four years later, Benedict died and was buried in the same grave with his sister. The two were united by grace and a shared mission in this life, and they would forever share a grave from which they will rise together on the last day.
Pope Saint Gregory opines that Scholastica’s prayers were answered over Benedict’s objection because her love was great. “She did more which loved more,” he wrote. The witness of these siblings should especially teach us the value of holy friendships that mutually build each other up and give glory to God. We are made not only for communion with God, but for communion with one another. These saintly siblings give witness to this holy fact.
Saint Scholastica, you and your brother shared not only the same family, but you were also deeply united in a spiritual friendship centered on God. Please pray for me, that I may discover friends who assist me on my journey through this world and that I may be such a friend to others. Saint Scholastica and Saint Benedict, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
From the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
Chapter Thirty-three: of a miracle wrought by his sister Scholastica.
GREGORY. What man is there, Peter, in this world, that is in greater favour with God than St. Paul was: who yet three times desired our Lord to be delivered from the prick of the flesh, and obtained not his petition? Concerning which point also I must needs tell you, how there was one thing which the venerable father Benedict would have done, and yet he could not.
For his sister called Scholastica, dedicated from her infancy to our Lord, used once a year to come and visit her brother. To whom the man of God went not far from the gate, to a place that did belong to the Abbey, there to give her entertainment. And she coming thither on a time according to her custom, her venerable brother with his monks went to meet her, where they spent the whole day in the praises of God and spiritual talk: and when it was almost night they supped together, and as they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, and darkness came on, the holy Nun his sister entreated him to stay there all night, that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven. But by no persuasion would he agree unto that, saying that he might not by any means tarry all night out of his Abbey.
At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, receiving this denial of her brother, joining her hands together, laid them upon the table: and so, bowing down her head upon them, she made her prayers to almighty God: and lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their head out of door: for the holy Nun, resting her head upon her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears upon the table, that she drew the clear air to a watery sky, so that after the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed: and her prayer and the rain did so meet together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder began, so that in one and the very same instant, she lifted up her head and brought down the rain. The man of God, seeing that he could not by reason of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return back to his Abbey, began to be heavy and to complain of his sister, saying: “God forgive you, what have you done?” to whom she answered: “I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me, I have desired our good Lord, and he hath vouchsafed to grant my petition: wherefore if you can now depart, in God’s name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone.”
But the good father, being not able to go forth, tarried there against his will, where willingly before he would not stay. And so by that means they watched all night, and with spiritual and heavenly talk did mutually comfort one another: and therefore by this we see, as I said before, that he would have had that thing, which yet he could not: for if we respect the venerable man’s mind, no question but he would have had the same fair weather to have continued as it was, when he set forth, but he found that a miracle did prevent his desire, which, by the power of almighty God, a woman’s prayers had wrought. And it is not a thing to be marvelled at, that a woman which of long time had not seen her brother, might do more at that time than he could, seeing, according to the saying of St. John, God is charity and therefore of right she did more which loved more.
PETER. I confess that I am wonderfully pleased with that which you tell me.
Chapter Thirty-four: how Benedict saw the soul of his sister ascend into heaven.
GREGORY. The next day the venerable woman returned to her Nunnery, and the man of God to his Abbey: who three days after, standing in his cell, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, beheld the soul of his sister (which was departed from her body), in the likeness of a dove to ascend into heaven: who rejoicing much to see her great glory, with hymns and lauds gave thanks to almighty God, and did impart the news of this her death to his monks, whom also he sent presently to bring her corpse to his Abbey, to have it buried in that grave which he had provided for himself: by means whereof it fell out that, as their souls were always one in God whiles they lived, so their bodies continued together after their death.