Sunday, November 11, 2012

Defining family: when friends cross into familiar territory

The Austin Group, at our daughter Anamaria's wedding in June 2012

We've been visiting over the past two days with our community of friends from Austin, a unique faith group that I would describe as the people with whom I "grew up"/keep growing up!--for the past 30 years now. Gulp. 

So I have been thinking a lot this weekend about how to define those people in my life who are not family, yet with whom I share an intimacy and spiritual bond way beyond the average definition of friendship. In a very real, genuine way, they are my spiritual siblings.

One of the most famous sibling teams is that of St. Scholastica and St. Benedict.

And perhaps the most renowned story about them is one told by St. Gregory the Great where Scholastica begged heaven for more time with her twin brother Benedict. At the end of one of their once-a-year visits, Scholastica pleaded with her brother Benedict to stay the night at her cottage on the base of Monte Cassino. But Benedict refused because he did not want to break his own community rule by spending a night outside the monastery.

So Scholastica asked God’s help—and a severe thunderstorm broke out! The story goes that Benedict looked sternly at his twin Scholastica and said, 

“Sister! What have you done?”
 And Scholastica honestly answered, 

“Well, I asked you and you wouldn’t listen, so I asked my God and He did!” 

Needless to say, Benedict and his monks could not return to the abbey that night.

Abbey on top of Monte Cassino

This was to be the siblings’ last visit together, as three days later, Scholastica died. When he heard, Benedict sent a group of monks to bring Scholastica to the tomb he had prepared for himself. Benedict and Scholastica are buried together under the main altar at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, with an inscription on the tomb that reads: 

“They who could not be separated in life, are now joined in death.”

Scholastica and Benedict clearly shared a special relationship as brother and sister. Yet it was their total commitment to God that bonded and blessed their relationship at a deeper level.  

They were not only siblings by blood, but above all, siblings in faith--spiritual siblings!