Wednesday, February 10, 2010

St. Scholastica (480-542?)

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 Plombariola, five miles from where her brother governed a monastery. The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters. According to the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day. He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey. Benedict cried out, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” Scholastica replied, “I asked a favour of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (7:14-23)

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean'." After He had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples asked Him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" He asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean'. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'."

The human heart
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

A young person has just finished school. It has been a hard if promising period of his life. He has finished his final exams and has done well enough. He has successes to his credit and also failures — although he does not think much of the failures. He now embarks on his higher studies. University passes by, he graduates for his chosen career, and he makes his way in his profession. He marries and begins to raise a family. The years bring their share of achievements and many frustrations and sorrows. He wishes to grow in his Christian faith and the difficult realities of life are borne in on him. He is now in his late middle age, and he sees that while God has cared for him and has given him a work in life, the great problem has been, and is, his broken, sinful self. More years pass and there remains the daily inner struggle. From within his heart all kinds of odious thoughts and desires surge. He is inveterately unforgiving — even though he wishes he were not. He is jealous and hateful of those who have hurt him — even though he wishes he were not. He is sad that his ambitions have been unfulfilled — even though he wishes he were not. He sees that much of the difficulty of life — though not all, of course — has been due to his own selfishness and pride in dealing with those whom Providence has placed in his path. As the years advance a species almost of gloom comes across him, as he sees more and more vividly the corrupted character of his heart and how serious a challenge it presents. Sin seems to be rising inexorably into view from within his depths. This is the hidden burden of his life which he divulges only to his priest when he comes for the Sacrament of Penance, which he does regularly. He has the consolation of wife and family, but the basic issue remains. His profoundly flawed self remains. The crisis of his life comes into full view: it is what is to be done about his own bad heart. But a few years remain to him — will it all be a hidden and hopeless failure?

In one important respect, such a person has passed from the shadows into the light of truth. He has come to see that it is from within a person’s heart that the evil things of life spew forth. Of course, he understands that various evils in the world do not come directly from man himself. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that so much evil and suffering does, it is but a short step to accept the revealed doctrine that evil and death entered the world through the wicked choice of man. Man and woman came from the hand of God, uncorrupted. Their hearts were pure and totally integrated for good. But they chose to rebel, and mysteriously all of life was thrown out of order and set on the path to death. The linchpin had gone and the break-up immediately began. Thus it is that while good tendencies remain in the heart of man, there is within him a powerful and sinful disorder. If unchecked its upshot is an ultimate death. The person we followed earlier through life has come to see this from sheer experience, and this is exactly what our Lord speaks of in today’s Gospel. Indeed, our Lord speaks of it as something obvious to ordinary experience. “After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. Are you so dull? he asked. Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'?” “He went on: What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean'. For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'” (Mark 7:14-23). But our man above has appreciated only part of the truth. He does not yet realize the wonder of the Gospel. The Good News is that he is not alone with his own bad heart. Christ has come and has established the Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom is within you, as our Lord himself said. Christ has placed within our hearts the Gift of gifts, which is the Holy Spirit who came to us at our baptism. He, not ourselves, is our hope.

What is the answer to the bad heart that man has wrought within himself? The answer lies in the power and the action of Christ. He is the Saviour of the world. In principle, he has taken away its sin. But this redemptive work must be brought to each and to all. It must be welcomed and by active cooperation with this gift of grace, brought to term. There is a further wonder. The suffering that is now man’s lot has been transformed by the Cross of Christ into a means of victory — victory over the sin in man’s heart. So then, I shall take each day as it comes, leaving the future to God. I shall strive daily to do his holy will in union with the one and only Saviour, Jesus Christ. He will do the work of my sanctification. Now I begin!

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