(c. 480 – February 10, 542)
Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict, established religious communities within a few miles from each other. Born in 480 of wealthy parents, Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left central Italy for Rome to continue his studies. Little is known of Scholastica’s early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino at Plumbariola, five miles from where her brother governed a monastery.
Scholastica had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastary property, not far outside the gate. One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together. Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother, “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “What are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”
When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly, he began to complain. “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well, she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”
So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life. Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastary and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.– from Dialogues by Pope Saint Gregory the Great
Scholastica and Benedict gave themselves totally to God and gave top priority to deepening their friendship with him through prayer. They sacrificed some of the opportunities they would have had to be together as brother and sister in order better to fulfill their vocation to the religious life. In coming closer to Christ, however, they found they were also closer to each other. In joining a religious community, they did not forget or forsake their family but rather found more brothers and sisters.
Saint Scholastica is the Patron Saint of:
To show us where innocence leads, you made the soul of your virgin Saint Scholastica soar to heaven like a dove in flight. Grant through her merits and her prayers that we may so live in innocence as to attain to joys everlasting. This we ask through our Lord.
~In Jesus’ Name,
What you are is God’s gift to you.
What you become is your gift to God.
We have survived Black Friday and made it through Cyber Monday!!!!! As always at this time of the year, our thoughts turn to gifts: giving and receiving, what we want to give, what we want to receive, what will please those we love, the shopping, the ordering, the wrapping, the general hustle and bustle of the Christmas season centering around gifts ad infinitum, donating to the people with the red kettles and bells so the less fortunate can have gifts…..
And then there’s the practice of ‘re-gifting,’ passing along that unwanted or unusable gift that we were given, to someone else, so that they will have SOMETHING, and so that they too, can possibly pass that pink and orange and green plaid scarf along, re-gifting it themselves to someone else who won’t use it either….and sometimes by some freak chance that unwanted item comes back to us several years later….and not much too worse for the wear…. And is re-gifting, as amusing (and cheap) as it may seem, necessarily a bad thing?
Why all this focus on gift-giving and gift-receiving at this time of year? The union of Christmas and gift giving was a gradual one; actually, the full story of the bright packages beneath the tree, like most of our Christmas customs, begins in the days before the birth of Christ. In ancient Rome, gifts were exchanged during the New Year’s celebrations. At first these gifts were simple, such as a few twigs from a sacred grove and small items of food. Many gifts were in the form of vegetables in honor of the fertility goddess Strenia. During the Northern European Yule, (yep, the yuletide season is a pagan thing) fertility was celebrated with gifts made of wheat products, such as bread and alcohol.
Like many of the old and pagan customs, exchanging gifts was difficult to get rid of even as Christianity spread and gained official status. Early church leaders tried to outlaw the custom, but the people cherished it too much to let it go. St. John Chrysostom urged no compromise with heathen abominations, but he, too, failed in this tenacity of hanging on to the tradition of gift giving. Since there was no general agreement about the exact date of the birth of Jesus, it must have seemed helpful to have it supersede the Saturnalia, so the rebirth of the sun became instead the birth of the Son of God, and the church leaders looked for a Christian justification for the practice of all this gift giving. This justification was found in the Magi’s act of bearing gifts to the infant Jesus, and in the concept that Christ was a gift from God to the world, bringing in turn the gift of redemption and everlasting life.
What you are is God’s gift to you.
What you become is your gift to God.
Wikipedia defines a gift as the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return. Although gift-giving might involve an expectation of reciprocity, a gift is meant to be free. By extension the term “gift” can refer to anything that makes the other happier or less sad, especially as a favor, including forgiveness and kindness.
God’s gifts to us are free and clear. He has given us the gift of His Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He has given us the gift of eternal life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NIV); The gift of salvation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV); And the gifts that are unique to each of us: “We each of us have our own individual gifts: But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)
Besides the obvious gift of His Son, and the forgiveness that we receive through Him whom we receive by faith, what other gifts has God given specifically to you? What talents have you received? What blessings have been given to you?
We learn about the 7 Gifts of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2-3: “2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;” (NIV)
And more importantly, what are you doing with those gifts? What are you giving back to God? What are you “becoming” as you use your gifts and talents? Which of the gifts that you have been given are you “regifting?” In other words, when we’ve received a gift from God, do we share that gift with others? Do we “regift?” We are told in 1 Peter 4:10, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” (NIV) Jesus himself addresses this very thing in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. By using our gifts, they multiply and we bring others to know God, and by recognizing what we have been given and using them for God’s glory, we are giving back to God.
What is the most precious thing we can give to God? The most precious gift we can give is what God wants the most. God wants us to make the fervent attempt to repent, get right with Him, and not lead a double life, trying to follow two contradictory paths, but living our lives according to His will. God simply wants us to give ourselves to Him. This is the best gift we can give! Our gift to Him is how we respond to the gifts He has given us which are the gifts of life and of grace. We can best do this when we are headed in His direction, following His precepts with a grateful, willing heart and mindset, and by striving to be the best that we can be by becoming what it is that He wants us to be.
Barbara Streisand sings in “The Best Gift:”
The best gift
That I ever got
Didn’t really weigh a lot
It didn’t have a ribbon ’round
And it sometimes made a terrible sound
The best of all it seems to me
It wasn’t ‘neath the Christmas tree
And yet, I guess I’d have to say
That it made all the other presents twice as gay
The best gift that I’ve ever known
I’d always wanted most to own
Yet in my dreams of sugar and spice
I never thought it could be so nice
The best gift that I ever get
Was sometimes dry and sometimes wet
Was usually pink but oftentimes red
As it lay so innocently in it’s bed
The best gift of the year to me
The one I hold most dear to me
A gift that simply drove me wild
Was a tiny new born child…
As we celebrate the birth of THE tiny newborn Child, God’s greatest and best Gift to us, let us strive to make ourselves the best gift we can give to others, and to God. Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters, today we rejoice in the Feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the little poor man of God. This beloved saint of the Middle Ages, renown the world over as “patron of animals, ecology and all tree huggers” is in fact, one of the greatest of the saints of his time. With St. Dominic, his friend, their respective religious Orders brought renewal and reform to both the Church and the society of their time. Born into a wealthy merchant family, Francis found himself transformed by Christ in a dramatic way. The once proud son of a Merchant, became the poverello the minstrel of Christ. Singing the stories of the Christ he went about at the beginning of his conversion spreading Christ’s joy. Soon though, he would find his calling deepen and his passion for the Cross enkindled by the Holy Spirit. Moved to tears upon seeing a leper, one who he once reviled, he embraced and kissed the fellow, seeing Christ before him. He began to minister to the lepers around Assisi, allowing them to live in close proximity to him. It was at this time he began to rebuild several small churches as well. Gathering disciples, the radical living of the Gospel attracted and continues to attract many men and women who feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to give up all for the Gospel and identify themselves with the least, lost and forsaken. What is the message of Francis for us…it is simply, the message of the Cross. To glory in nothing but the Cross of Christ. To have nothing, thus allowing God to provide for all our needs. To comfort the afflicted, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry and to set captives free by showing how to live the liberating Gospel of poverty. It is to identify with those no one wishes to associate with and to proclaim to all that, “I see Christ in you, you are therefore, my hope of glory.” You see, when we find Christ in each other, we serve as Christ served, love as Christ loved and live as Christ LIVES! On this Feast day, let us glory in nothing but the cross of Christ, find our joy in him in all we meet and hold out to the end to live with him forever. Friar Ed Cass, CFS
The Lady Clare, “shining in name, more shining in life,” was born in the town of Assisi about the year 1193. Her mother was to become Blessed Ortolana di Fiumi. Her father is said to have been Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso, though whether he came of that noble branch of the Scifi family is not certain. Concerning Clare’s childhood we have no reliable information. She was eighteen years old when St. Francis, preaching the Lenten sermons at the church of St. George in Assisi, influenced her to change the whole course of her life. It is likely that a marriage not to her liking had been proposed; at any rate, she went secretly to see Friar Francis and asked him to help her to live “after the manner of the Holy Gospel.” Talking with him strengthened her desire to leave all worldly things behind and live for Christ. On Palm Sunday of that year, 1212, she came to the cathedral of Assisi for the blessing of palms, but when the others went up to the altar-rails to receive their branch of green, a sudden shyness kept Clare back. The bishop saw it and came down from the altar and gave her a branch.
The following evening she slipped away from her home and hurried through the woods to the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Francis was then living with his small community. He and his brethren had been at prayers before the altar and met her at the door with lighted tapers in their hands. Before the Blessed Virgin’s altar Clare laid off her fine cloak, Francis sheared her hair, and gave her his own penitential habit, a tunic of coarse cloth tied with a cord. Then, since as yet he had no nunnery, he took her at once for safety to the Benedictine convent of St. Paul, where she was affectionately welcomed.
When it was known at home what Clare had done, relatives and friends came to rescue her. She resisted valiantly when they tried to drag her away, clinging to the convent altar so firmly as to pull the cloths half off. Baring her shorn head, she declared that Christ had called her to His service, she would have no other spouse, and the more they continued their persecutions the more steadfast she would become. Francis had her removed to the nunnery of Sant’ Angelo di Panzo, where her sister Agnes, a child of fourteen, joined her. This meant more difficulty for them both, but Agnes’ constancy too was victorious, and in spite of her youth Francis gave her the habit. Later he placed them in a small and humble house, adjacent to his beloved church of St. Damian, on the outskirts of Assisi, and in 1215, when Clare was about twenty-two, he appointed her superior and gave her his rule to live by. She was soon joined by her mother and several other women, to the number of sixteen. They had all felt the strong appeal of poverty and sackcloth, and without regret gave up their titles and estates to become Clare’s humble disciples. Within a few years similar convents were founded in the Italian cities of Perugia, Padua, Rome, Venice, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Siena, and Pisa, and also in various parts of France and Germany. Agnes, daughter of the King of Bohemia, established a nunnery of this order in Prague, and took the habit herself.
The “Poor Clares,” as they came to be known, practiced austerities which until then were unusual among women. They went barefoot, slept on the ground, observed a perpetual abstinence from meat, and spoke only when obliged to do so by necessity or charity. Clare herself considered this silence desirable as a means of avoiding the innumerable sins of the tongue, and for keeping the mind steadily fixed on God. Not content with the fasts and other mortifications required by the rule, she wore next her skin a rough shirt of hair, fasted on vigils and every day in Lent on bread and water, and on some days ate nothing. Francis or the bishop of Assisi sometimes had to command her to lie on a mattress and to take a little nourishment every day.
Discretion, came with years, and much later Clare wrote this sound advice to Agnes of Bohemia: “Since our bodies are not of brass and our strength is not the strength of stone, but instead we are weak and subject to corporal infirmities, I implore you vehemently in the Lord to refrain from the exceeding rigor of abstinence which I know you practice, so that living and hoping in the Lord you may offer Him a reasonable service and a sacrifice seasoned with the salt of prudence.”
Francis, as we know, had forbidden his order ever to possess revenues or lands or other property, even when held in common. The brothers were to subsist on daily contributions from the people about them. Clare also followed this way of life. When she left home she had given what she had to the poor, retaining nothing for her own needs or those of the convent. Pope Gregory IX proposed to mitigate the requirement of absolute poverty and offered to settle a yearly income on the Poor Ladies of St. Damien. Clare, eloquent in her determination never to break her vows to Christ and Francis, got permission to continue as they had begun. “I need,” she said, “to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from my obligation to follow Jesus Christ.” In 1228, therefore, two years after Francis’ death, the Pope granted the Assisi sisterhood a Privilegium paupertatis, or Privilege of Poverty, that they might not be constrained by anyone to accept possessions. “He who feeds the birds of the air and gives raiment and nourishment to the lilies of the field will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He come Himself to minister to you for eternity.” The convents in Perugia and Florence asked for and received this privilege; other convents thought it more prudent to moderate their poverty. Thus began the two observances which have ever since been perpetuated among the Poor Clares, as they later came to be called. The houses of the mitigated rule are called Urbanist, from the concession granted them in 1263 by Pope Urban IV. But as early as 1247 Pope Innocent IV had published a revised form of the rule, providing for the holding of community property. Clare, the very embodiment of the spirit and tradition of Francis, drew up another rule stating that the sisters should possess no property, whether as individuals or as a community. Two days before she died this was approved by Pope Innocent for the convent of St. Damian.
Clare governed the convent continuously from the day when Francis appointed her abbess until her death, a period of nearly forty years. Yet it was her desire always to be beneath all the rest, serving at table, tending the sick, washing and kissing the feet of the lay sisters when they returned footsore from begging. Her modesty and humility were such that after caring for the sick and praying for them, she often had other sisters give them further care, that their recovery might not be imputed to any prayers or merits of hers. Clare’s hands were forever willing to do whatever there was of woman’s work that could help Francis and his friars. “Dispose of me as you please,” she would say. “I am yours, since I have given my will to God. It is no longer my own.” She would be the first to rise, ring the bell in the choir, and light the candles; she would come away from prayer with radiant face.
During her life and after her death there was disagreement at intervals between the Poor Clares and the Brothers Minor as to their correct relations. The nuns maintained that the friars were under obligation to serve their needs in things both spiritual and temporal. When in 1230 Pope Gregory IX forbade the friars to visit the convents of the nuns without special license, Clare feared the edict might lead to a complete severing of the ties established by Francis. She thereupon dismissed every man attached to her convent, those who served their material needs as well as those who served them spiritually; if she could not have the one, she would not have the other. The Pope wisely referred the matter to the minister general of the Brothers Minor to adjust. After long years of sickness borne with sublime patience, Clare’s life neared its end in the summer of 1253. Pope Innocent IV came to Assisi to give her absolution, remarking, “Would to God I had so little need of it!” To her nuns she said, “Praise the Lord, beloved daughters, for on this most blessed day both Jesus Christ and his vicar have deigned to visit me.” Prelates and cardinals gathered round, and many people were convinced that the dying woman was truly a saint. Her sister Agnes was with her, as well as three of the early companions of Francis-Leo, Angelo, and Juniper. They read aloud the Passion according to St. John, as they had read it at the death-bed of Francis twenty-seven years before. Someone exhorted Clare to patience and she replied, “Dear brother, ever since through His servant Francis I have known the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, I have never in my whole life found any pain or sickness that could trouble me.” To herself she was heard to say, “Go forth without fear, Christian soul, for you have a good guide for your journey. Go forth without fear, for He that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother.”
Pope Innocent IV and his cardinals assisted at the funeral of the abbess. The Pope would have had her canonized immediately had not the cardinals present advised against it. His successor, Alexander IV, canonized her after two years, in 1255, at Anagni. Her body, which lay first in the church of St. George in Assisi, was translated to a stately church built to receive it in 1260. Nearly six hundred years later, in 1850, it was discovered, embalmed and intact, deep down beneath the high altar, and subsequently removed to a new shrine in the crypt, where, lying in a glass case, it may still be seen. In 1804 a change was made in the rule of the Poor Clares, originally a contemplative order, permitting these religious to take part in active work. Today there are houses of the order in North and South America, Palestine, Ireland, England, as well as on the Continent. The emblem of St. Clare is a monstrance, and in art she is frequently represented with a ciborium.
Saint Clare, Virgin, Foundress of the Poor Clares. Celebration of Feast Day is August 12th by the pre-1970 liturgical calendar and August 11th (the actual date of her death) by the present one.