(Feast Day: February 10th)
by Prosper Louis P. Gueranger
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.
Hymn to St. Scholastica
O Scholastica, blessed spouse of Christ! O Dove of the cloister! the citizens of heaven proclaim thy merits, and we, too, sing thy praises with joyful hymns and loving hearts.
Thou didst scorn the honours and glory of the world; thou didst follow the teaching of thy brother and his Holy Rule; and, rich in the fragrance of every grace, thou caredst for heaven alone.
Oh! what power was in thy love, and how glorious thy victory, when thy tears drew rain from the skies, and forced the Patriarch of Nursia, to tell thee what he knew of the land above!
And now thou shinest in heaven's longed-for light; thou art as a seraph in thy burning love, beautiful in thy bright grace; and united with thy divine Spouse, thou art reposing in the splendour of glory.
Have pity on us the Faithful of Christ, and drive from us the miseries which cloud our hearts; that thus, the Sun of light eternal may sweetly shine upon us, and fill us with the joys of his everlasting beams.
Let us sing a hymn of glory to the Father, and to His only son; let us give an equal homage of our praise to the Blessed Paraclete: yea, to God, the Creator and ruler of all, be glory without end. Amen
Another Hymn to St. Scholastica
The shades of night are passing away: the longed-for day is come, when the virgin Scholastica is united to her God, her Spouse.
Winter's tedious gloom is over; the rainy clouds are gone; and the Spring of the starry land yields its eternal flowers.
The God of love bids his beloved come; and she, taking the wings of a dove, flies swiftly to the embrace so ardently desired.
How beautiful is thy soaring, dear daughter of the King! Thy brother, the Abbot, sees thee, and fervently thanks his God.
Scholastica receives the embrace of her Spouse, and the crown her works have won inebriated with the torrent of glory, she drinks of the joys of her Lord.
May the world-wide creation of every age, adore Thee, O Jesus, sweet Flower of the vale, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Prayer to St. Scholastica
Dear Spouse of the Lamb! Innocent and simple Dove! How rapid was thy flight to thy Jesus, when called home from thine exile! Thy brother's eye followed thee for an instant, and then heaven received thee, with a joyous welcome from the choirs of the Angels and Saints. Thou art now at the very source of that love which here filled thy soul, and gained thee everything thou asked of thy Divine Master. Drink of this fount of life to thy heart's eternal content. Satiate the ambition taught thee by thy brother in his Rule, when he says that we must "desire Heaven with all the might of our spirit." Feed on that sovereign Beauty, Who himself feeds, as he tells us, among the lilies?
But forget not this lower world, which was to thee, what it is to us,--a place of trial, for winning heavenly honours. During thy sojourn here, thou wast the Dove in the clifts of the rock, as the Canticle describes a soul like thine own; there was nothing on this earth which tempted thee to spread thy wings in its pursuit, there was nothing worthy of thy giving it the treasure of the love, which God had put in thy heart. Timid before men, and simple as innocence ever is, thou knewest not that thou hadst wounded the Heart of the Spouse. Thy prayers were made to him with all the humility and confidence of a soul that had never been disloyal; and he granted thee thy petitions with the promptness of tender love: so that thy brother,--the venerable Saint,--he who was accustomed to see nature obedient to his command,--yes, even Benedict was overcome by thee in that contest, wherein thy simplicity was more penetrating than his profound wisdom.
And who was it, O Scholastica, that gave thee this sublime knowledge, and made thee, on that day of thy last visit, wiser than the great Patriarch, who was raised up in the Church to be the living rule of them that are called to Perfection? It was the same God who chose Benedict to be one of the pillars of the Religious State; but who wished to show, that a holy and pure and tender charity is dearer to him, than the most scrupulous fidelity to rules, which are only made for leading men to what thou hadst already attained. Benedict, himself such a lover of God, knew all this; the subject so dear to thy heart was renewed, and brother and sister were soon lost in the contemplation of that Infinite Beauty, who had just given such a proof that he would have you neglect all else. Thou wast ripe for heaven, O Scholastica! Creatures could teach thee no more love of thy Creator; he would take thee to Himself. A few short hours more, and the Divine Spouse would speak to thee those words of the ineffable Canticle, which the Holy Spirit seems to have dictated for a soul like thine: Arise, make haste, my Love, my Dove, my beautiful one, and come ! Show me thy face; let thy voice sound in mine ears; for thy voice is sweet, and comely is thy face.
Thou hast left us, O Scholastica! but do not forget us. Our souls have not the same beauty in the eyes of our God as thine, and yet they are called to the same heaven. It may be that years are still needed to fit them for the celestial abode, where we shall see thy grand glory. Thy prayer drew down a torrent of rain upon the earth; let it now be offered for us, and obtain for us tears of repentance. Thou couldst endure no conversation which had not eternity for its subject; give us a disgust for useless and dangerous talk, and a relish for hearing such as are on God and Heaven. Thy heart had mastered the secret of fraternal charity, yea of that affectionate charity, which is so well-pleasing to our Lord; soften our hearts to the love of our neighbor, banish from them all coldness and indifference, and make us love one another as God would have us love.
Dear Dove of holy solitude! remember the Tree, whose branches gave thee shelter here on earth. The Benedictine cloister venerates thee, not only as the sister, but also as the Daughter of its sainted Patriarch. Cast thine eye upon the remnants of that Tree, which was once so vigorous in its beauty and its fruits, and under whose shadow the nations of the West found shelter for so many long ages. Alas! the hack and hew of impious persecutions have struck its root and branches. Every land of Europe, as well as our own, sits weeping over the ruins. And yet, root and branches, both must needs revive, for we know that it is the will of thy Divine Spouse, O Scholastica, that the destinies of this venerable Tree keep pace with those of the Church herself. Pray that its primitive vigor be soon restored; protect, with thy maternal care, the tender buds it is now giving forth; cover them from the storm; bless them; make them worthy of the confidence wherewith the Church deigns to honour them!