Readings: Song of Songs 2:10-14, Psalm 2:7-11, 2 Peter 1:16-21 and Matthew 3:14-17
Happy Feast of Saint Scholastica, a beloved feast of a beloved woman of God, dear to Benedictine women all over the world. Today’s readings reflect back on the story at the end of her last conversation with her brother Benedict and his vision of her soul ascending like a dove to God three days later, which we heard at Morning Praise. Scholastica is remembered by Gregory of Great as “she [who] was able to do more because she loved more.” This emphasis on her capacity for love is also acknowledged in the portrayal of her soul leaving her body and ascending to the heavens “under the form of a dove.”
A dove in the figurative language of the First Testament is a symbol of love, which is clearly seen in the reading from the Song of Songs, where the lover asks his friend, his beloved, his dove, to come, so he might see her face and hear her voice, both of which are lovely to him. In a sense Scholastica’s soul, like the dove, is being called home to her Beloved Lord and her brother is allowed to know of her ascent to God when he sees the dove. Rather than being in the hidden clefts of the rock, as in the Song of Songs [2:14], this dove is now “penetrating the hidden places of heaven.”
She too is the beloved daughter of God, in whom God is well pleased, as is the Lord she has followed all her life. The dove, representative of the Holy Spirit, descends upon Jesus at his baptism and the heavens open to reveal the voice of the One, who considers Jesus the “beloved Son,” on whom Gods’ favor rests, or in whom God is well pleased, depending on your translation. After his baptism Jesus begins his public ministry of making known the one he called “Abba/Father,” steeped in the felt knowledge that he (Jesus) is beloved by Abba. Jesus is one with all who take refuge in God, and hence he is beloved. The prophetic word, that Jesus is beloved, that is, “begotten by God” is a fulfillment of Psalm 2:7 and that prophetic word is reiterated in the author of Peter’s speech to a Greek-speaking Jewish community, when he writes: “that unique declaration came to [Jesus] from the majestic glory, ‘this is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” [2 Peter 1:17]. The author, claiming to be Peter, states: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” [2 Peter1:18], that is, the transfiguration experience. There the apostles were with Jesus, when they experienced a theophany of who Jesus was, as he stood between the two great prophets of the First Testament: Elijah and Moses. The author of Second Peter clearly wishes his hearers to know that whatever this prophetic experience was, it was of the Holy Spirit, even if it is related through human words. We know from the transfiguration account that while Peter and the other disciples sought to take refuge in tents they wished to build on that mountain, they were ordered to go down the mountain.
Just as we do not know what this experience was for the apostles on the mountain, or for the author of Second Peter in relating it, we do not know how Benedict experienced the death of his sister, except in the words of Gregory. Gregory is quick to say, “Overjoyed by her glory, he thanked almighty God in hymns of praise, and he announced her death to the brothers.” It is as if the “morning star [has arisen] in [his] heart” [2 Peter 1:19] on learning of Scholastica’s ascent into heaven and he acknowledges the source of her glory, namely the almighty God, who is “majestic glory” [2 Peter 1:17]. She is the one who always took refuge in her Lord.
After his prayer of thanksgiving, Benedict arranges for the burial of Scholastica’s body in his own tomb, a detail reminiscent of the burial of Jesus’ body in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea [Mt 27:59-60]. Both the bodies of Jesus and Scholastica rest in tombs not their own, but belonging to a beloved friend in Jesus’ case and a beloved brother in Scholastica’s case. Eventually “Benedict and Scholastica [will] rest in the same grave…The spiritual union of the monk and nun continued unto death by a burial which did not separate them.”
When I was in Rome for the English-speaking Benedictine Experience in 2001, we took a side trip to Monte Cassino, where Benedict and Scholastica are buried. I was touched by the story of our tour guide, who told us that the altar over their graves was not damaged in the allied bombing of Monte Casino during World War II; it was one of the few things left standing. As I stood there praying, I was overwhelmed by the sense of the holiness of this burial site and found myself weeping in joy and gratitude to be able to stand before them and thank them for their beginning of a way of life I love and strive to live. Although I saw no doves that day, I believe the Holy Spirit hovered over them and over us, who were able to witness this sacred space.