Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Scholastica. Scholastica, the twin sister of St. Benedict, was born in Nursia in central Italy about the year 480. She followed her brother Benedict to Monte Cassino where she founded the Benedictine community of women religious. She died at Monte Cassino in 543. She and Benedict were buried in the same tomb.
What little we know of her comes from the books of Dialogues written by the Pope, St. Gregory the Great. Gregory describes that Scholastica would go and visit her brother at a place near his monastery, and they would spend the day and night worshiping together and discussing sacred texts and issues. The point of this story, plus others, is to show that the priority of Scholastica’s life was to deepen her relationship with God through 3 ways: prayer, discussion of religious and spiritual matters and the care of her religious community.
This is where we can make a connection with today’s Gospel. Jesus sates: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come”. Here Jesus is dealing with the fundamental question: What makes a person unclean? Jesus uses the customs of his day associated with cleanliness to teach where real evil comes from.
What defiles a person is not a failure to follow external habits and rituals such as washing hands or washing cooking utensils or eating certain foods. Defilement does not come from outside the person, but rather it comes from inside the person. We become unclean by evil intentions that are in the depths of the human heart and mind. Jesus is criticizing undue emphasis on trivial externals while ignoring the places where real evil exists, namely on the inside, within ourselves: our wills, our desires, our passions.
But the opposite is also true. All good things come from within. Good comes from the mind and heart. Good deeds are always preceded by good intentions.
The invitation of today’s Gospel is to be vigilant over our minds and hearts. We have an obligation to monitor and evaluate our thoughts, our attitudes and our values. Being faithful to the Gospel may mean transforming our inner life.
This is precisely the area in which St. Scholastica can serve as a spiritual role model for us. As mentioned earlier, she was totally devoted to God and to deepening her friendship with him. That friendship led her to form a religious community and to be dedicated to her fellow sisters. She gave herself totally to the development of her spiritual life, namely the life within the person.
The obvious questions are. How about us? How deep is our commitment to the life of the spirit, to the life of the inside?
There is a lot of emphasis in our culture on physical health and well-being (proper diet, exercise, appropriate medical treatment, etc.) The same comment can be made about mental and emotional health and well-being. For example, there are daily articles in various media that focus on the negative impact of the current pandemic on the mental and emotional health of students, hospital workers, law enforcement, etc.
There are all sorts of guidelines, videos and practices that promote physical fitness as well as mental and emotional fitness. No one would argue that it’s not important to be physically fit, mentally fit or emotionally fit.
The key message of today’s celebration is that the life of St. Scholastica reminds us that it is equally necessary to be spiritually fit. The Gospel, by emphasizing that both good and evil are not found outside a person, but rather inside a person, is also reminding us that spiritual fitness is crucial.
The call of the Gospel is to commit ourselves to the development and growth of the core of our personhood, namely our soul. As Fr. Henri Nouwen explained in his writings, the purpose of the spiritual life is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God’s spirit master us.
How do we do that? The best way is to follow the example of St. Scholastica – to devote ourselves to God and to becoming close to him. In becoming closer to God, she found she was closer to her brother and closer to the members of her religious community.
As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God to be like St. Scholastica. Although we are living through a pandemic, and we are focused on physical, mental and emotional well-being, let us not neglect our spiritual well-being. Let us not become infected with a spiritual virus.
May God give us the grace to be committed to our spiritual health by nurturing our relationship with God and, subsequently, our relationships with the people around us.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
February 10, 2021