Tuesday, February 9, 2010


“St. Scholastica”
by Andrea Mantegna


Biographical Information about St. Scholastica[1]

Readings for the Memorial of St. Scholastica

Readings and Commentary:

Song of Songs 8:6-7

Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
he would be roundly mocked.

Commentary on
Sgs 8:6-7

This short phrase from a love song in Song of Songs begins with the notion of undying fidelity in love. ("Set me as a seal on your heart – Seal: this could be worn bound to the arm, as here, or suspended at the neck, or as a ring (Jeremiah 22:24). It was used for identification and signatures. Stern . . . relentless: in human experience, death and the nether world are inevitable, unrelenting; in the end they always triumph. Love, which is just as certain of its victory, matches its strength against the natural enemies of life; waters cannot extinguish it nor floods carry it away. It is more priceless than all riches.”)[3] In this context the image of chaste love of God reflects the virgin’s virtue.

CCC: Sgs 8:6-7 1611; Sgs 8:6 1040, 1295
Psalm 148:1bc-2, 11-13a, 13c-14

R. (see 12a and 13a) Young men and women, praise the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights;
Praise him, all you his angels,
praise him, all you his hosts.

R. Young men and women, praise the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

Let the kings of the earth and all peoples,
the princes and all the judges of the earth,
Young men, too, and maidens,
old men and boys,
Praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted.

R. Young men and women, praise the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

His majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has lifted up the horn of his people.
Be this his praise from all his faithful ones;
from the children of Israel, the people close to him. Alleluia.

R. Young men and women, praise the name of the Lord.
R. Alleluia.

Commentary on
Ps 148:1bc-2, 11-13a, 13c-14

Psalm 148 is a hymn of praise. In this selection we find the psalmist singing of the omnipotence of God, His power and majesty, and his promise of salvation.

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
"Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply,
"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her."

Commentary on
Lk 10:38-42

In this encounter with Martha and Mary in St. Luke’s Gospel, we see two distinct messages. First, we see the importance of the role of women and Jesus’ attitude toward them. Second we see the importance of listening to the word of God: "Mary has chosen the better part."

The selection emphasizes the importance of listening to the teachings of the Lord. While in some early texts the Lord tells Martha there is “need for only a few things,” or of one, the message is clear: Mary, in assuming the role of disciple (listening at the master’s feet) has chosen the correct or better role. Martha, concerning herself with the requirements of hospitality (old law) has chosen the lesser.

“Mystically (St. Gregory the Great, Moralia 2, 6): the two women signify two dimensions of the spiritual life. Martha signifies the active life as she busily labors to honor Christ through her work. Mary exemplifies the contemplative life as she sits attentively to listen and learn from Christ. While both activities are essential to Christian living, the latter is greater than the former. For in heaven the active life terminates, while the contemplative life reaches its perfection.”[5]


St. Scholastica (c. 480 - February 10, 547) Born in Italy, she was the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. It is said this great nun preceded her twin brother in holiness and dedication to God.

Our reflection upon St. Scholastica would not be complete without relating perhaps the best known story about her life and piety. From Butler’s Lives of Saints we hear this account:

She (St. Scholastica) visited her holy brother (St. Benedict) once a year, and as she was not allowed to enter his monastery, he went out with some of his monks to meet her at a house at some small distance. They spent these visits in the praises of God, and in conferring together on spiritual matters.

St. Gregory relates a remarkable circumstance of the last of these visits. Scholastica having passed the day as usual in singing psalms and [in] pious discourse, they sat down in the evening to take their refection.. After it was over, Scholastica, perhaps foreknowing it would be their last interview in this world, or at least desirous of some further spiritual improvement, was very urgent with her brother to delay his return till the next day, that they might entertain themselves till morning upon the happiness of the other life. St. Benedict, unwilling to transgress his rule, told her he could not pass a night out of his monastery so desired her not to insist upon such a breach of monastic discipline.

Scholastica, finding him resolved on going home, laying her hands joined upon the table and her head upon them, with many tears begged of Almighty God to interpose in her behalf. Her prayer was scarce ended, when there happened such a storm of rain, thunder, and lightning, that neither St. Benedict nor any of his companions could set a foot out of doors.

He complained to his sister, saying: "God forgive you, sister what have you done?"

She answered: "I asked you a favor, and you refused it me; I asked it of Almighty God, and he has granted it me."

St. Benedict was therefore obliged to comply with her request, and they spent the night in conferences on pious subjects, chiefly on the felicity of the blessed, to which both most ardently aspired, and which she was shortly to enjoy. The next morning they parted, and three days after St. Scholastica died in her solitude. St. Benedict was then alone in contemplation on Mount Cassino, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he saw the soul of his sister ascending thither in the shape of a dove.

We, who hear her story all these years later marvel at the depth of faith she possessed and earnestly hope we may attain some portion of the faith she evidenced in her life. The Gospel from St. Luke makes clear there is another side to the service St. Scholastica undertook. There was real work to be done in the name of God and most of it was not glamorous or mystically fulfilling. But St. Scholastica’s legacy is also one of laboring in the Lord’s vineyards; doing menial work and dedicating it to the Glory of God is perhaps the most pleasing sacrifice God can receive. It supposes no reward, no lofty recognition but rather offers the humble efforts done in seclusion to the Father as his gift of praise.

While we remember St. Scholastica’s final encounter with her brother as a story depicting God’s affection for her, we also remember her as Martha, laboring for the Lord in unknown ways. On this day, we pray for all those who fulfill Martha’s role so that others may sit at the Lord’s feet. Their honor will be great in heaven.


[1] The picture is “St. Scholastica” by Andrea Mantegna 1431–1506
[2] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. 
[3] See NAB footnote for Song of Songs 8:4-7
[4] Butlers Lives of Saints, @ Harmony Media, Inc., Salem, Oregon
[5] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 129

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