Memorial; Liturgical Color: White
St. Scholastica was born just a few years after the last western emperor was forced to abandon the crumbling city of Rome in 476. Power was concentrated in the east, where the real action was, in the capital Constantinople. Many centuries would pass until the Renaissance would cover Rome again in its classical glory. But what happened in western Europe between the end of the Roman era in the 5th century and the dawn of the Renaissance in the 15th? Monasticism happened. Armies of monks founded innumerable monasteries crisscrossing the length and breadth of Europe like the beads of a rosary. These monasteries drove their roots deep into the native soil. They became centers of learning, agriculture, and culture that naturally gave birth to the dependent towns, schools, and universities which created mediaeval society. Monks transformed the farthest northwestern geographic protrusion of the Asian landmass into, well, Europe.
St. Benedict and his twin sister, St. Scholastica, are the male and female sources for that wide river of monasticism which has carved its way so deeply into the landscape of the western world. Yet very little is known with certainty about her life. Pope St. Gregory the Great, who reigned from 590-604, wrote about these famous twins about a half century after they died. He based his account on the testimony of abbots who personally knew St. Scholastica and her brother.
Gregory’s biographical commentary emphasizes the warm and faith filled closeness between the siblings. Scholastica and Benedict visited each other as often as their cloistered lives allowed. And when they met they spoke about the things of God and the Hheaven that awaited. Their mutual affection grew out of their common love of God, showing that a correct understanding and love of God is the only source of true unity in any community, whether it be the micro community of a family or the mega community of an entire country.
The Benedictine monastic family tried replicated the common knowledge and love of God which Scholastica and Benedict lived in their own family. Through common schedules, prayer, meals, singing, recreation, and work the communities of monks who lived according to the Benedictine rule, and who live it still, sought to replicate the well ordered and fruitful life of a large, faith filled family. Like a well trained orchestra, all the monks melded their talents into an overwhelming harmony under the wand of the abbot, until their common effort swelled over into the beautiful churches and music and schools that carry on today.
The gravestones in monastery cemeteries often have no names engraved on them. The polished marble may say, simply, “A holy monk.” The anonymity is itself a sign of holiness. What matters is the body of the larger religious community, not the individual who was just one of that body’s cells. St. Scholastica died in 547. Her grave is known, marked, and celebrated. She is buried in a luxurious sepulchre in an underground chapel of the monastery of Monte Casino in the mountains south of Rome. She is not anonymous in her resting place, like so many monks and nuns. But she is anonymous in that so few details illustrate her character. Perhaps that was by design. Perhaps it was humility. She and her brother are major religious figures whose stamp is still impressed into western culture. Yet she is a mystery. She is known by her legacy, and sometimes a legacy is enough. In her case it is definitely enough.
St. Scholastica, you established the woman’s branch of the Benedictine Religious Order, and so gave Christian women their own communities to govern and rule. Help all who invoke your intercession to remain anonymous and humble even when developing great plans for God and his Church. You are great and you are unknown. Help us to desire the same.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
OF this Saint but little is known on earth, save that she was the sister of the great patriarch St. Benedict, and that, under his direction, she founded and governed a numerous community near Monte Casino. St. Gregory sums up her life by saying that she devoted herself to God from her childhood, and that her pure soul went to God in the likeness of a dove, as if to show that her life had been enriched with the fullest gifts of the Holy Spirit. Her brother was accustomed to visit her every year, for “she could not be sated or wearied with the words of grace which flowed from his lips.” On his last visit, after a day passed in spiritual converse, the Saint, knowing that her end was near, said, “My brother, leave me not, I pray you, this night, but discourse with me till dawn on the bliss of those who see God in heaven.” St. Benedict would not, break his rule at the bidding of natural affection; and then the Saint bowed her head on her hands and prayed; and there arose a storm so violent that St. Benedict could not return to his monastery, and they passed the night in heavenly conversation. Three days later St. Benedict saw in a vision the soul of his sister going up in the likeness of a dove into heaven. Then he gave thanks to God for the graces He had given her, and for the glory which had crowned them. When she died, St. Benedict, her spiritual daughters, and the monks sent by St. Benedict mingled their tears and prayed, “Alas! alas! dearest mother, to whom dost thou leave us now? Pray for us to Jesus, to Whom thou art gone.” They then devoutly celebrated holy Mass, “commending her soul to God;” and her body was borne to Monte Casino, and laid by her brother in the tomb he had prepared for himself.” And they bewailed her many days;” and St. Benedict said, “Weep not, sisters and brothers; for assuredly Jesus has taken her before us to be our aid and defence against all our enemies, that we may stand in the evil day and be in all things perfect.” She died about the year 543.
Reflection.–Our relatives must be loved in and for God; otherwise the purest affection becomes inordinate and is so much taken from Him.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.