10 February, Friday – Spiritual Works of Mercy

10 Feb – Memorial for St. Scholastica, virgin

St. Scholastica (480-543) was the twin sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. Born to Italian nobility, her mother died in childbirth. She became a nun and led a community of women at Plombariloa near Montecassino.

  • Patron Saint Index

From her earliest years, she had been consecrated to God. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year, and he would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery 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 monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

  • from Dialogues by Pope St. Gregory the Great

Sgs 8:6-7
Lk 10:38-42

Love no floods can quench, no torrents drown.

A small book I am reading, ‘I’m Listening, Praying with Art and Story’, focuses on Saint Scholastica on Day 16 of this 40 day book. I highly recommend it – one a day, or even one a week to contemplate and pray on —  it would be a wonderful support during Lent. So as I’ve learned more about her, I smiled at today’s gospel as it clearly brings us the embodiment of Martha and Mary into one person, Saint Scholastica. How perfect for recognizing her and the Spiritual Works of Mercy she emulated and personified on this earth over 1500 years ago.

We know Mary as the sister who sat at Jesus’ feet, and didn’t worry about the food, the serving, cleaning up, etc. Mary was mesmerized with feeding her soul with the words of Christ. Mary seems to have the gift of ‘being present to the moment’, and though I am sure she often physically helped Martha and many others, hospitality wasn’t how she was wired, she was more people-focused than task-focused. Martha, on the other hand seems to be a task-focused person. Though I am sure she, too, listened and learned and desired to sit with Jesus, making sure others were comfortable, safe, warm and fed was her priority; hospitality definitely was her gift. From my viewpoint, Saint Scholastica seems to be the perfect combination of Martha and Mary.

I wasn’t as familiar with the Spiritual Works of Mercy as you may be… to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries and pray for the living and the dead. LOVE is at the center of all spiritual works. Saint Scholastica was especially faithful in teaching the faith, and works of mercy, to women. 

In reading these Spiritual Works of Mercy, it can seem that to ‘admonish the sinner’ is out of sync in the way we do things these days. Politically INCORRECT at best. Yet, as Catholics, we know that our calling is to spread the gospel, so it is our responsibility to assist and help those who fall into sin – just as we want to be assisted and helped when we fall into sin. We are not all called to be therapists and we are not called to ‘fix’ another person. However, we are called to be present to the moment with people on our path, to guide them on, or back onto, the path to eternity with God. 

To admonish someone of their sin, we must be gentle with total love, we are not being judgmental, we are sharing the gospel, sharing our faith. There is great danger in watching someone play in the streets of sin, just as there can great danger in letting our children play in the streets of our neighborhoods.

To instruct others in the faith, we have to know and walk out our faith. And to be ready, we must be in an intentional state of learning ourselves. Certainly, none of us have – or will ever have — all the answers, but we know enough to begin the conversation. So let us begin the conversation.

To counsel those who are falling away, whether deliberately choosing this world or simply getting caught up in the ‘rat race’ of life. Therefore, it is important that we are ready to listen, to share where and when we have seen, heard and/or felt God’s guidance, whether in prayer or from friends, family or even strangers that made themselves available as God’s instruments in our walk. 

To comfort the sorrowful – all manner of sorrow. To acknowledge the hurt, pain, confusion, that a person is suffering (even if others carry similar suffering with ease. St. Thomas Aquinas said there are three types of sorrow:

  • sorrow that is unexpected (like an illness)
  • sorrow that is sudden (like an accident)
  • and sorrow that overwhelms a person (like illness, loss, heartache, misfortune over and over again).

Our world is filled with sorrow, and none of us will leave this earth without sorrow. To help another through sorrow is a holy thing. Sorrow is something that another cannot ‘fix’, so we are called to be with the sorrowful, just sitting and acknowledging the depth of their sorrow.

To bear wrongs patiently. Look at Christ as our example. We are to refrain from even justified revenge in angry word or deed. Instead, take a step back and pray to determine if the situation needs to be addressed, or if you can let it go and offer up your irritation, pain, injustice, etc.

To forgive all injuries. This can be hard, but meditate on the mental, physical and emotional injuries that Christ and his Mother (and many other Saints) endured and forgave. Yes, endured and forgave.

Finally, praying for the dead. For my generation, I know this is a Spiritual Work of Mercy that has been greatly neglected. A few years ago, I set a 3pm daily alarm to pray for all those dying this day and whoever in Purgatory needs my prayers the most. Sometimes, it is a handful of prayers, sometimes it’s just one Hail Mary. Our prayers are powerful because of WHO we pray to, let us never forget that. As we pray for others, let us rest assured that others are praying for us and those we love. No prayer is ever wasted or unnecessary. 

Jesus said, “I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.” Perhaps as Lent draws near, we can take at least one of these Spiritual Works of Mercy each day and emulate Saint Scholastica for the good of all the world.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: As we celebrate anew the Memorial of the Virgin Saint Scholastica, we pray, O Lord, that following her example, we may serve you with pure love and happily receive what comes from loving you. May love be the centre of all that we think, say and do.

Thanksgiving: Father God, we are so grateful for all the angels and saints who guide and protect us. We are grateful for the example of the saints who walked with earth as we do. We are grateful for Martha and Mary, the way they loved Jesus and the example they have for us to follow, as we know that Jesus is in every person on our path. 


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