Tuesday, February 10, 2009

St Scholastica, Virgin

2 Corinthians 10:17-18 / Matthew 25:1-13

When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

It is a case of two thunderstorms. The one on a dark and terrible heath in Scotland. The weather is ominous: So foul and fair a day I have not seen, remarks the ambitious lord Macbeth. The ladies there are terrible and foul as the storms which herald their appearance. They seek to converse with Macbeth, and to draw from him what perhaps he would otherwise not do, to slay and overthrow the rightful king.

The other thunderstorm is on the rocky hills to the southeast of Rome. The weather there too, once fair, turns ominous, with thunder, lightning, and rain. There is a lady there as well, the nun Scholastica, and like the Weird Sisters with Macbeth, she also seeks to draw the man in her company, her brother Benedict, to do what perhaps he would not otherwise do, to remain outside the monastery in the guest house with his sister all night.

How very different, though, the import of these storms. In the first, there is only to be found chaos, bloodshed, deception, and loss. Listening to the Sisters, and yielding to his own dark and hidden counsel, Macbeth is enticed to put into action a terrible plot that leads to the death and downfall of many, not least himself. In the second, there is a love beyond all telling, a final chance to share on earth what they both long to enjoy forever in heaven. Listening to his sister, and prevented from following his own best counsel, Benedict enjoys a full night in the company of a woman not only his beloved kin by blood, but a chaste virgin to Christ whose charity was so deep that her desire to draw her brother closer to her one spouse was able at the slightest prayer to call down a tempest from heaven.

So, how is one to know? How are the dark and terrible tempests in our life to guide us? When should we, like Benedict, yield to impeding circumstance even against our own better judgment? When instead should we, like Macbeth's companion Banquo, hold the promises offered in the dark storms of life as suspect, untrustworthy?

But 'tis strange:
And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray's
In deepest consequence.
(Macbeth 1.3.128-132)

While the answer is not simple, and we are never absolved from discerning spirits, from judging in wisdom and prudence what to do, we are not without some guidance. We know, even now while it is light, while the weather is calm and fair, how to tell between the seductive temptations of our darker desires and the holy foolishness that draws us beyond being sensible to the divine jealousy of love for God and for all those whom God loves. It is now that we can trim our lamps, now that we can take the oil of sound teaching, of clear counsel, of good company. It is in our preparedness when things seem clear, and the darkness far off, that we will be able to see well and clearly whether the figure approaching in the gloom is the terrible spirit who wishes our woe, or the bridegroom, whose return overcomes our fear with unfathomable delight.

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