I haven’t yet read Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option though I have been a regular reader of his blog at The American Conservative and am thus familiar with some of the ideas he puts forward in his book. Maybe it’s time I sat down and read it.
I think of our Personal Ordinariate communities, in North America anyway, as examples of the Benedict Option in action. Many, however, mistakenly see the Benedict Option as a retreat to the hills, a pulling away from the world into isolated little bastions, and a cultish retrenchment.
Those who’ve read the book already correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the Benedict Option is more about intentionally setting up Christian communities so as to preserve the faith, to provide mutual support to others and ourselves and our families in so-doing and to help each other ensure the faith gets inculcated into one’s children and grandchildren. And not only the faith, but culture, the culture of western civilization that is so eclipsed right now. It’s about not assuming that you will have a Catholic subculture around you to help you, because you will not, unless you work hard at creating one.
Here in Ottawa our parish is part of a little nexus of Benedict Options, including Augustine College and St. Timothy’s Classical Academy that are part of larger networks of intentional Christian community, such as Madonna House, Communion and Liberation and more.
So, it was with interest I read this post of Dreher’s this morning, that responded to a lecture in the United States by Fr. Antonio Spadaro in which he said Pope Francis opposes the Benedict Option.
As I clearly explain in the text, I call for a “strategic withdrawal,” which is to say, withdrawing for the sake of strengthening our roots and our witness, so that when we go out into the world, as we must, we will do so as real Christians. Excerpts from The Benedict Option:
What these orthodox Christians are doing now are the seeds of what I call the Benedict Option, a strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church to embrace “exile in place” and form a vibrant counterculture. Recognizing the toxins of modern secularism, as well as the fragmentation caused by relativism, Benedict Option Christians look to Scripture and to Benedict’s Rule for ways to cultivate practices and communities. Rather than panicking or remaining complacent, they recognize that the new order is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be lived with. It will be those who learn how to endure with faith and creativity, to deepen their own prayer lives and adopting practices, focusing on families and communities instead of on partisan politics, and building churches, schools, and other institutions within which the orthodox Christian faith, can survive and prosper through the flood.
This is not just about our own survival. If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have. If Israel had been assimilated by the world of the ancient Near East, it would have ceased being a light to the world. So it is with the church.
Over and over in the book I make this distinction: that to be fully and authentically Christian in the world, we must draw sharper lines between ourselves and the world.
There is at the post a link to video of the speech of Fr. Spadaro, co-author of that La Civilta Cattolic article that I have written about previously. I listened to part of it and hope I can find a text because it was taking too long and I read faster than he can read out loud.
Anyway, a couple of money quotes from Dreher.
Spadaro said that in Francis’s vision, “the duty of Christianity in Europe is one of service.” OK, fine. I would have thought that the duty was evangelization and formation, but service is certainly part of the Christian’s duties to the world. But as I say in The Benedict Option, “we cannot give the world what we do not have.” And the one thing that many, many Catholics (and other self-identified Christians) in Europe and North America do not have is a living orthodox faith.
So true. If one reads/ hears Pope Francis from the standpoint of someone who already is well-formed in the faith, the call to go out to the peripheries, to serve, to undergo a pastoral conversion is about the Church in mission and a challenging, lively message.
Sadly, however, most Catholics are not well-formed in their faith.
Dreher again, with my emphases:
The problem is not that Christians are not enough in the world. The problem is that the world is too much in them. Catholic leaders that wish to turn the Catholic Church into a Romanized version of Mainline Protestantism are not helping to turn the tide. And they are not the future.