26 April 2013

Benedict, Scholastica and "Home Visits"

A friend and I were talking about the importance of home visits for hermits in light of my recent posts and she urged me to post the story of Benedict and his twin sister Scholastica. I am sure you have heard it.

At the time of this story Benedict and Scholastica lived nearer one another than they had in the past and were able to visit one another fairly regularly (Benedict would come to Scholastica's monastery)

Scholastica had been ill and Benedict recommended she relax some of the strictures of her life so she could get stronger. She did so and was looking much better on this trip. However, as night began to fall she and her brother sang evening office together, ate an austere supper, and then talked until fairly late. When it came time to leave (Benedict's Rule strictly forbade staying away from the monastery in this way overnight) Scholastica said to her brother: [[Please do not leave me tonight. . .Your presence brings me such comfort, and I hate to let you go. Stay with me, talking about the joys of heaven, until the sun rises in the morning.]]

Benedict was surprised she would ask him to break the Rule and told her that her request was completely impossible. Scholastica broke into tears and while weeping prayed about the matter. Immediately a storm began with rain so hard that Benedict and his companion monk could not even step outside. Benedict was angry at first and using the language of Adam to Eve in Genesis, demanded, "Woman, what have you done?" --- as though she had caused serious temptation to sin as Eve had done.

Scholastica answered her brother, " When I appealed to you you would not listen to me. So I turned to my God and he heard my prayer. You see, you cannot leave me now even if you still wanted to!" Benedict realized he must have made a mistake and then spent some time wondering why God would will he honor Scholastica's whim over his own greater duty. When he reflected on all of this he realized that staying truly was God's will and that his own heart was cramped by duty in comparison with her heart moved by love. They stayed together that night, kept vigil, and Benedict's own heart was changed by all they shared. Scholastica died just a few days later.

We can draw a number of lessons from this story, but the primacy of love over duty is one of the more important ones. Meanwhile I have received a number of responses to my request for feedback on the question of hermits and home visits and will be posting those in the next day or so. The responses are wonderful and freshly insightful!