St.-Benedict-and-St.-Scholastica2Sibling bickering, it seems, does not stop even when both brother and sister are saints. The year was 547 AD and St. Benedict of Nursia—yes, that St. Benedict, for whom the Benedictines are named—was having a rare once-a-year visit with his sister, St. Scholastica. As the day neared end, St. Benedict wanted to return to his abbey, but St. Scholastica pleaded with him to stay so they could keep talking. What did she do when St. Benedict refused? She did what any offended sister might do: she cried. Except when this saint cried, it poured—quite literally.

Here is how Pope Gregory I (also a saint) recounts the story in his Life of St. Benedict:

[F]or the holy Nun, resting her head upon her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears upon the table, that she drew the clear air to a watery sky, so that after the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed: and her prayer and the rain did so meet together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder began, so that in one and the very same instant, she lifted up her head and brought down the rain. The man of God, seeing that he could not by reason of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return back to his Abbey, began to be heavy and to complain of his sister, saying: "God forgive you, what have you done?" to whom she answered: "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me, I have desired our good Lord, and he hath vouchsafed to grant my petition: wherefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone."

And so they stayed up reportedly talking about heaven. Now, as lighthearted as this story is, there is a serious message here. Pope Gregory explains the significance of the story by alluding to 1 John 4:8—God is love—to explain why St. Scholastica prevailed over her brother. His conclusion: "she did more which loved more." It seems to me a good lesson in making sure your priorities are rooted in love (not to mention an example of the sheer power of divine love). What did love call St. Benedict to do at that moment? Return to his brothers, or stay with his sister? Both had merit, but one more than the other.

I am reminded of the story of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke, when Martha complained that Mary had left her to do all the housework while she listened to Jesus. To be sure, the housework needed to be done, it was a duty both women apparently had—but listening to Jesus was more important. So it was with Benedict, his brothers, and his sister. Clearly spending more time with his sister was the right thing: three days later, St. Scholastica died.


Original published as When Sibling Saints Squabbled

Read more from Stephen Beale, a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism.

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