I received the gift of the Holy Spirit when I was nine years old. It took many months of catechism class to prepare to receive the sacrament of Holy Confirmation in the Catholic Church. There were dozens of questions about doctrine and faith to study, like:
What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward sign made by Christ to give grace.
What is grace? Grace is any gift from God.
How many persons are there in God? There are three Persons in God.
….and so on. There were scores of prayers and creeds to memorize, months of CCD every Wednesday afternoon and hours of quizzing by my parents at night, but the pay-off for a nine-year-old girl was the opportunity to choose a saint’s name as my second middle name. All by myself. This was a big deal. It seemed like such a grown-up thing to do, to pick MY OWN name. I chose the name Christine, not because I knew anything about St. Christine, but because the name was so pretty to me. Jodi Marie Christine.
My grandma was so proud of my Confirmation that she called me Christine the whole day. My parents gave me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate the occasion and as any nine-year-old would do, the first thing I did was look up my birthday. I was immediately disappointed. The illustration seemed so dark –a man with a hood, a scary looking bird and a funny name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor. After gaining such a beautiful name like Christine, what kind of luck did I have to get a guy named Benedict on my birthday?! July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. I read the pages about St. Benedict often, thinking that I should have some connection with this man as my patron saint, but then I forgot about him until…
Fast forward 30 years when I found my way to St. Benedict Center, not because of the name or that I remembered anything that I had read about St. Benedict, but because I had a desire for prayer and silence. And at a silent retreat, I met a woman named Colleen who would become like a sister to me, an Anam Cara or soul friend. She gave me a card once that said, “We’re like sisters with different mothers.” We connected on a spiritual level–we prayed together, read spiritual books and could have talked for hours about our spiritual journey. And what I discovered the year she passed away further deepens our connection. Her birthday is February 10 and her patron saint is St. Benedict’s twin sister, St. Scholastica. They had a close relationship, even though they could not spend a lot of time together, and they were both committed to God.
Here is the story of St. Scholastica from the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great:
“Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, 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 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.”
Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.
It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.
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.
Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.”
The lessons I’ve learned from St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, from my friendship with Colleen and other soul friends, are many. I’m sure there are more to come, but here is some of what I’ve learned so far:
Spiritual friendships never end. ♥ Neither death nor distance can separate us from the love of another. ♥ There is no such thing as loving too much. ♥ Spiritual friendships are a gift from God. ♥ We support each other in living out God’s purpose in our life. ♥ Spiritual connections with friends enrich one’s prayer life and guide the other back to God when one is temporarily lost. ♥ Spending time together is important, but friendship resides in the heart. ♥ We pray for and with each other. ♥ We cry with each other. ♥ We laugh together. ♥ We listen to, plan with, comfort and challenge each other. ♥ We are grateful for each other and we say it. ♥ “Our minds are united in God.”
I thank God for the example of all the saints and for learning about St. Benedict as a child. I thank God for my oblate experience to learn more about St. Benedict and his Rule (and about the hooded Abbot and his scary bird). I thank God for the lives and stories of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. I thank God for spiritual friendships.
“Friendship is the linking of spirits. It is a spiritual act, not a social one. It is the finding of the remainder of the self. It is knowing a person before you even meet them.” ~Joan Chittister