The Catholic Church’s view of the roles of men and women in the Church and in society in general, and it’s view of the nature and purpose of marriage and sexuality, are the topic of much discussion and debate in our culture today. One of the most important texts for understanding the Church’s view – a text that Jesus even refers to in the New Testament – is the passage from Genesis that we read this morning.
It is not currently interpreted literally by most bible scholars – it is not thought that God actually performed a medical operation on Adam to remove a rib and make a woman with it, as if with play-dough. However, the message of the text is taken quite seriously. The most obvious conclusion drawn from it is that man and woman are intended by God to be together as partners, and to be joined in the most intimate physical and spiritual unity possible for human beings in marriage.
St Thomas Aquinas has an interesting interpretation of the woman being made from man’s rib. He points out that God did not make woman from man’s head, because that would mean she should rule him; nor did God make her from Adam’s feet, lest he look down on her and treat her as a slave. Instead, God made Eve from a rib from Adam’s side, because they are meant to be partners.
This is well illustrated by the saint we remember today, St Scholastica. She was the twin sister of St Benedict, who was the founder of monasticism in the western world, back in the VI century. When St Benedict established his monastery for men in Italy, St Scholastica followed suit and founded a convent for women, following essentially the same rule of life. They obviously were not married, but they were partners in serving God.
There is at least one time when St Scholastica is said to have overruled her brother St Benedict, and with it I will conclude. A few days before her death, they were meeting at a house between the monastery and the convent and talking about God and the spiritual life. When evening came, she didn’t want him to leave, because she knew she was dying and would not have another chance to talk with him. When he insisted on leaving, she prayed intensely, and God sent a storm so strong he could not leave the house that night, so they were able to keep talking as St Scholastica had wished. She died a few days later, and St Benedict had a vision of her soul rising to heaven like a dove. Her faith, her holiness, and her dedication to God make her a great example for every Christian, man or woman.