Feast Day: July 11th | Patronage: European Civilization, Members of Religious Orders, Monks, Schoolchildren, Spelunkers, Farmers, Civil Engineers, those with fevers, gall stones, kidney disease, inflammation, and the dying | Iconography: White hair, Black robe (as Benedictine) with cup, bread, and raven (hearkening to the attempt to poison him), or book, crosier or cross (as abbot)
I want to embarrass St. Benedict a bit this week – as if that were possible – by drawing from a story that casts his twin sister in far better light.
Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate. One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. 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. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life. It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.
St. Benedict has one of those amazing titles that sometimes saints get after we look back at their life: Patron of Europe, or Patron of European Culture. There are six saints who have been given this same title – St. Benedict, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, St. Bridget of Sweden, St. Catherine of Sienna, and St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross. Now, I suspect most of us will not receive such a title when we become saints, but we are all called, like these saints, to build up authentic Christian culture.
Culture goes wrong when our lives, and then our society, are ordered around the wrong thing. (Think of any number of horrific cults. They went bad because they were centered on a bad character or evil purpose). True culture sustains and helps us thrive, and this happens when we are grounded and centered on that which is true and good (consider words like “cultivation” or that Latin word, cultus, that simply meant right-worship.) The little anecdote from St. Benedict’s life – and truly his life in general – teaches us one simple way to build up culture in our homes, families, and surroundings: converse about beautiful things.
When is the last time you shared something beautiful in conversation with your spouse or child, and then you marveled in it together? We don’t often give time to that sort of thing. We just hit the like button and keep scrolling, or slurp down our delicious cup of coffee and speed into the day, or take a picture of the sunset and then drive on. If God thought it important enough to force St. Benedict and St. Scholastica to spend the night talking together do you think He might have provided beautiful, lovely, profound, awe-some things for you to enjoy, and want you to share them with those you love? I suspect He has!
– Fr. Dominic is actually visiting his own twin sister, also a nun (Sr. Mary Thomas of the Holy Name of Jesus is her name) this very weekend. He prays to be humbled as was St. Benedict, and to share with her and his family so many beautiful things that God has placed within his life.