On February 10th the Church celebrates the feast of St. Scholastica – the sister of St. Benedict. There is a touching story told about this sister and brother.
Once a year, Benedict would leave his monastery and Scholastica would leave her convent and the two would meet and spend the day together enjoying one another’s company and spending the time in spiritual conversation. Once, during a visit, their conversation continued on and on and the hour grew late. Noticing how late it was Scholastica asked her brother to stay and to continue their conversation until the morning. Benedict refused. He felt he had to return to the monastery. As her brother stood to depart, Scholastica joined her hands and bent her head in prayer. Immediately there was a flash of lightning, a mighty roar of thunder and the sky let loose a heavy downpour of rain that would not allow Benedict nor any of his monks to leave!
Seeing the rain Benedict looked at his sister and complained, “Sister, what have you done?” Scholastica answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen.” (The moral of the story – never cross a nun!)
At the heart of Benedictine spirituality is welcome and hospitality. In his Rule, Benedict urges his monks to recognize that when they welcome another, whomever that person may be, they are in fact welcoming Christ.
This sense of gratuitous and warm welcome is witnessed by Christ himself throughout the gospels. In fact we could say that Christ again and again welcomes the other person throughout his ministry. Christ welcomes the poor fishermen and tax collectors as his disciples. He welcomes the public sinner, the outcast, the foreigner and the possessed. He welcomes the one who is ill and the leper. Again and again, Christ welcomes!
One of the dynamics of today’s familiar gospel story (Mk. 2:1-12) – often illustrated in children’s Bibles – of the paralytic being lowered through the ceiling by his four friends is that Jesus warmly welcomes the man and his friends. “Child,” the Lord says with gentleness, “your sins are forgiven.” “These are words of forgiveness, a welcome that touches the foundations of our lives.” (Bishop Vincenzo Paglia) Our Lord could have just healed the man – being very efficient about the whole matter (an attitude prized so highly by our modern age) – and gone about the rest of what needed to be done. But he does not. Our Lord recognizes that the paralytic man is not just a “medical and social problem” needing to be solved but a child of God yearning and needing to be noticed and loved. Jesus acknowledges this and so he first welcomes the man; sharing God’s mercy and forgiving him of the sin that weighs him down and then he heals him of his physical ailment.
We need to learn to welcome as Jesus welcomes.
We live in a very cold and efficient age with many voices that encourage us to view the poor, the elderly, the foreigner, the sick, the disadvantaged as solely problems to be solved and problems best kept “out there” and “at a distance”. We need to resist these forces that seek to separate and divide (the modern day voices of the scribes who cannot fathom the healing depth of God’s mercy). It is not enough for a disciple of Christ to just help “at a distance”. We need to learn to welcome to the table; to welcome just as Jesus welcomed!
And as we learn to welcome as Jesus welcomed; the one we may be saving might just be our very selves!
Going back to the story of Benedict and Scholastica… Three days after their visit and the downpour of rain, Scholastica died. Benedict instantly is made aware of this by seeing her soul, in the form of a dove, ascending to heaven. At the time of their last visit, Benedict did not realize what little time remained but God knew that Benedict needed more time with his sister. Benedict himself needed more healing and comfort from the welcome, love and hospitality of Scholastica.
As we learn to welcome as Christ welcomes we can help bring healing to others in a truly deep and abiding way and we can also allow healing to be brought to our own hearts.