Friday, April 21, 2017

On reading "The Benedict Option"

The other day, in a wistful mood, I posted the following on Facebook:

I wonder if anyone has thought of creating a Sanctuary City where you can be openly religious, go to church regularly, dress and speak modestly and respectfully, treat others with respect, help others without expecting reward or fame, wait until marriage, avoid self-indulgence and what is impure - and not get mocked by the media as naive or out of touch or puritanical or repressed.

I got some thoughtful responses about how we won't find such a place until we get to heaven, or a reminder that Jesus told up that we would suffer on earth if we followed Him.

One woman suggested I read Rod Dreher's new book, The Benedict Option. Others had mentioned the book before in other contexts, so I picked up a copy and began to read.

What he has said so far resonated with me.

The culture has already been coopted. Trying to change the secular world  - politics, the media, the arts - will just be an exercise in futility at this point. Instead, he posits the model of St. Benedict. Withdraw as much as possible from that world and create "monasteries" where we live out our faith, seek to focus on spiritual matters, develop a local environment where we, others and our children can seek the eternal rather than  be enslaved by the secular.

Such places could be my mythical "Sanctuary City," but for most of us who can't leave where we live or work it means reducing our involvement in the outside secularized world as much as we can. Limit our contact with the culture - media, politics, the arts, activities, and so on. Limit or eliminate television. Don't rely on politicians. Read what is edifying and soul enriching. Simplify. Downsize.

Don't just reject. Set up alternatives. Home school when you can, or create and support real Christian schools. Write and read positive literature. Develop faith-based arts and media. Buy local and from Christians. Raise some of our own food. Repair and make do when it can be done.

Part of me still supports some activism, some speaking out against what is happening in the culture. And do we eventually leave our "monasteries" to go back out or influence the world (as St. Benedict's institutions did)? I have not finished the book, so I don't know yet if he addresses that.

But what I have read so far fits with what's been happening in my life - gradually pulling back from the culture. I am less optimistic about politics and government. I am limiting what I watch and read. My efforts are in creating and supporting institutions that promote faith and life.

I have more to read - and more thinking to do.

But I have always been attracted to monastic life!

Pax et bonum


Louis M said...

Wait. Benedict's world was worse than ours. The Dark Ages, if you will. He was a man of genius. He "withdrew" and saved Christianity. Many were convinced that the world was lost.
And along came a simple man named Francesco and changed everything. Reignited Catholic Christianity by not remaining behind walls, but by going out to meet (and convert/revert) his brothers and sisters and the Church. And that lasted for the most part, for 750 years.
We had been on defense for 600 years. We've been on defense for 60 years. A tenth of the time.
Let's take the world back.Again. :)

Louis M said...

Also, the problem of our age is that we misunderstand the first verse of St John's Gospel: "and the gates of hell will not prevail against Her" somehow to mean that Satan is an offense. Gates don't attack; they defend! Satan has already lost. WE are on offense!
He can certainly lead individuals and even nations into error, but the outcome is no longer in doubt. We Catholics and all Christians are advancing, with something that looks an awful lot like a sword in our hands, but is ,upon closer examination, our Lord's Cross. :)

A Secular Franciscan said...

While I do believe God and good will win in the end, I think he has a point about surviving the way things are now. We can't ignore the world, we need to act, but his point about withdrawing as much as possible resonates with me. We have to be open to help, and we need to speak out, but I also think we need to be an alternative in the way that we live and act.