Reflection for the vigil of the Feast of St. Scholastica
by Sister Helen Mueting
February 9, 2024
We have heard the story of Martha and Mary many times. We have also heard that Mary represents the contemplative and is the one we should emulate. Martha, on the other hand, is too preoccupied with work, too caught up in doing rather than being present. I always felt she got a bad rap. Someone must do the work.
Benedict and Scholastica create a similar story. Benedict is caught up in adhering to the rules. The monk is supposed to be in the monastery at night. Scholastica, on the other hand, knows that there is much more at stake here. She and Benedict are sharing on a deep level. They may have been right in the midst of a very intense conversation, or she may have a premonition of her own death. Yet Benedict wants to stop because the rule is that he must get back to the monastery. Scholastica prays to God to give them more time together. Gregory the Great says God answered her prayers because she loved more. What exactly does that mean? Sometimes in our pride we think that it puts her above her male counterparts. Wow, just think she loved more than Benedict.
In looking at both Scholastica and Mary, I see they have one thing in common. They value relationships. Mary values her time with Jesus. He may not come that way again for a long time. She listens to him, taking in his words while she can. Scholastica also does not know when she will see Benedict again. What they are saying to one another is important now. Rules are important, but if they keep us from being present to another or compassionate to another, is that what God wants? Is that valuing the other person in our midst?
Most of the time, I tend to be a Martha or a Benedict. I need to get something done. When someone comes into my office and I am in the midst of typing or editing, I sometimes tend to not really be present to her. Even if she interrupts my thoughts or keeps me from finishing that last sentence or completing the editing I am doing, I need to give my full attention to the person who comes in. When I fail to do this, I am telling that person that what I am doing is more important than she is. But she is important, and she may just be the message I need right then to help me get refocused on what is important in life.
An adage states that “Rules are meant to be broken.” The quote is credited to Douglas McArthur. It means different things to different people, but to me it means that sometimes we need to break away from the rules. Supper may be later; the house may not be as clean as we want: or the dishes may not get done. We may miss prayers because someone needs us to listen and be present to her, to go with her to an appointment, or to give her compassion in her sorrow. The choice we make may be an opportunity to grow in our spiritual life, to make someone else’s life a little brighter, or to help someone make it through a difficult situation. Martha and Benedict in these two stories are not wrong in their thinking. Work does need to get done, and rules do help organize our lives. However, sometimes we need to be able to bend them to really listen with the ear of our heart, to show compassion rather than judgment.
On this feast of St. Scholastica, may we look to Scholastica as a woman of faith and love, as a woman willing to risk breaking the rules to make something better happen. May she inspire us to reach out in love to whatever God may be challenging us to do even if we may break the rules or neglect our work for a brief time. According to Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything under the sun. This includes a time to work and a time to refrain from work so that we can be present to those who enter our lives.