Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

And the Greatest Is Love

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Saint Benedict had a sister, Scholastica, — many say his twin — who had been consecrated to God since her youth and was herself a spiritual leader.

During one of their annual visits, Scholastica, inspired by the depth of their conversation, asked Benedict — by now an abbot of some renown — to remain overnight in the place where they were meeting in order to continue their talk and reflection on spiritual things. Benedict wouldn’t even think of it. It was getting dark; it was time to get back to the monastery; it was time to get on with the regular routine of the spiritual life. Unable to persuade him with words, Scholastica put her head down on the table in deep prayer. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a great storm brought with it flash floods and Benedict realized that he could not possibly return to the monastery that night. And the Dialogues say, “he complained bitterly.” He said, “God forgive you, sister! What have you done?” Scholastica answered simply, “I asked you for a favor and you refused. I asked my God and I got it.”

The story is a vein worth mining for a lifetime. It tells us that law is never greater than love. It tells us to be intent on pursuing the values of the life, not simply its rules. It tells us that discipline is necessary in the spiritual life but that religious discipline is not enough, that depth is a process and that depth costs. It tells us that God lurks in strange places. And waits for us. And puts in our paths just what we need in order to become what we are meant to be. It reminds us that a woman has as much power in the eyes of God as any man and that we must recognize women, too, as spiritual guides.

Time To Think
1. “The loving are the daring,” Bayard Taylor wrote. Love sees a way where there is no way. Scholastica knew that the purpose of law is to bring us to the point where we can go beyond it, where we learn to seek what the law can only point to. Have you ever broken one law in order to keep another one?

2. The thing to remember about Benedict and Scholastica is that they were meeting together to “reflect on holy things.” They were great spiritual leaders but they had never stopped striving for more spirit or seeking for more wisdom. They insisted on taking the time to sharpen their inner vision. What do you do to deepen your own spiritual life? How long has it been since you just took a book, sat down, read and then thought about it for awhile? With whom do you talk about “holy things?” And if you don’t, why don’t you?

3. The trick of perfection is a trick played upon the spiritually unaware to make them think they can arrive at a point beyond which they need not go. Benedict’s demon may well have been perfection if Scholastica had not freed him from the burden of the impeccable so that he could know the challenge of being flawed. Which of your flaws have taught you the most about life?

4. Scholastica saw life differently than Benedict. Each of them gives us a vision of another dimension of life. She gave us a taste for the possible; he gave us a respect for responsibility. Don’t be fooled; they are not opposites. The two are always of a piece.

Joan Chittister

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1 Responses »

  1. Thanks for this. I loved the whole story and Sr. Joan's approach.