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The surprising way our siblings make us stronger

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Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 02/06/22

St. Scholastica's miraculous trick to foil her brother's plans ended up a great blessing to them both.

I still remember the tragic day when my older brother, Chris, smashed my LEGO castle to pieces. I worked my heart out getting it built and had proudly displayed it in my room on a shelf for visitors to admire. He took it and smashed it onto the floor when I wasn’t there to protect it. I think he was angry with me and taking his revenge; we’re not quite sure.

He’s still cagey about his motivations and claims either, “I was probably just asserting my dominance,” or, “You know you deserved it.” All I know is, to this very day, 30 years later, he’s still proud of it and says he’d do it again. Thinking about it brings a grin to his face.

The great LEGO disaster, as tough a time as it was for a 10-year-old boy, only made me stronger. We laugh about it now, but whatever argument we’d had – I honestly have no memory what it was about — was very real and, to me, the outcome was genuinely upsetting. In the manner of boyhood scuffles, I’m sure I well and truly deserved the retaliation. It was the sort of quarreling that all siblings endure.

Those fights had a positive result, and I’m glad our parents let them play out because they were opportunities for us learn how to reach a civilized compromise. We were boys through and through, so there was no hugging or apologizing but somehow, someway, in the mysterious manner in which boys figure out how to wordlessly make peace, we put the whole incident behind us. I learned several valuable lessons from the destruction of my beloved LEGO castle.

First, I began to grasp that my negative actions could easily rebound onto me to my great dismay.

Second, I learned that even after an argument consensus can be built and a relationship strengthened.

My brothers and I were effectively blunt tools who bludgeoned each other into personal growth. We inflicted ourselves on each other and filed down those sharp, unruly, egocentric edges that all children possess. We learned to live with each other, even to like each other. We bonded by being punished together, being forced into compromise, and realizing that if we didn’t defer to each other at least to some extent, we would never be able to play games or sports.

The friction of rubbing against the uncontrollable, independent, and sometimes downright annoying personal preferences of my brothers was the price to be paid for a strong brotherly bond. A moment of great personal clarity for me was when I first comprehended that sometimes they are right and I am wrong.

Don’t tell them I wrote that, though. As far as my brother knows, this article is an exposé so the whole world knows what he did to me.

The unusual story of a brother and sister

One fascinating story of a sibling relationship recounts an incident that occurred between St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica. Now, you might think a relationship between two saints is chock-full of pious platitudes and insistent humility in which each endlessly defers to the other, not a disagreement in sight, but that’s not exactly how the story goes.

The two siblings were enjoying their annual visit together – visits were rare because both lived under monastic discipline — and were talking late into the night when Benedict finally got up to leave. Scholastica asked him to stay and talk all night but he declined. In response she “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.”

Benedict objected to her miraculous trickery, to which his sister responded, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen.” Scholastica got her way. Benedict stayed and they became engrossed in conversation again.

It’s a truly strange story. Why would Scholastica ask for, and receive, such a frivolous miracle? How could she go against her brother and make him violate his monastic vows? In what way is this incident a positive development in their relationship? Siblings truly do have an odd way of showing each other their love.

That’s not the end of the story, though. Three days later, Benedict had a vision of his sister’s soul flying up to heaven. She had died shortly after his visit. This is when he knew she had been right to keep him with her that night. It was their final goodbye.

As frustrating as our siblings may be, as complicated as family can get, these relationships cut to the core of who we are. Like a thunderstorm, siblings rattle our cage, sparking and flashing. They make us question ourselves, what it means to be responsible to another person, and what it means to wait for each other even when we don’t understand.

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