Living “The Benedict Option”

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What made me smile today: Seeing all the recent posts on living “The Benedict Option“, which I first saw Rod Dreher write about in 2009 (a post which I consider rather prophetic; just the title alone is enough to give you pause, in light of what’s happening today). I recognized our family, and many others, in that article. It was tossed back and forth among bloggers, but my favorite is still this exchange over at here and here. And then I saw Eric Sammons’ post today. That phrase, “not for the faint of heart” immediately called to mind the thousands of Catholic homeschoolers worldwide. I have been fortunate enough to meet a small number of them in person, and get to know, and keep in touch with hundreds more via forums and e-mail lists (circa 2001-2009) and social media (2009 onwards). Not just homeschoolers either, but kindred spirits, fellow Christians/Catholics, young, old, rich, poor, single, married, consecrated. We ARE out here. As you read these posts, you’ll see common choices that many have made: eschewing mainstream media; filtering what we watch, read, listen to; intentional discipleship, intentional communities, virtual and offline. When I interact with these families, I can’t help but feel hopeful. Maybe if we were the only family I knew living this way, I’d be a bit more petrified and confused. But there is strength from knowing that there are thousands of us living in the world but are determined to not be “of the world”. We have a community of such believers right where we are, and we’ve also found them around and across the globe.

Besides Scripture and the Catechism, our Holy Fathers gave us priceless road maps to sanctity. We continue to talk about these in our circles: Humanae Vitae, of course, but also Casti Connubii, Familiaris Consortio, and Gravissimum Educationis. If we ever need to pack up and leave here, we’ll be taking hard copies with us. My hope is that at least in the near future, even if we no longer have faithful Catholic universities, we will still have our families.

Some things to consider:

Rome’s collapse meant staggering loss. People forgot how to read, how to farm, how to govern themselves, how to build houses, how to trade, and even what it had once meant to be a human being. Behind monastery walls, though, in their chapels, scriptoriums, and refectories, Benedict’s monks built lives of peace, order, and learning and spread their network throughout Western Europe.

Is there a lesson here for Christians? Should they take what might be called the “Benedict Option”: communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life?

From Rod Dreher’s 2013 article.

Damon Linker talks about all out political withdrawal as part of the Benedict option. This isn’t something my husband or boys would go for, though I don’t know that it would make much difference either way. Jonathan Last talks about forced assimilation here. The destruction and redefinition of identity, of children, of family, are clear signals that verbal and social engineering are all but complete, not just in the Western world, but elsewhere. Mostly I worry for the little ones, yours and mine. But most days I try to leave that worry in Mama Mary’s arms.

I think that living the Benedict Option — whatever your own version of it is — is doable, and something to consider seriously where you are. How far we take it, whether we leave civilization behind or not, whether to do it permanently or temporarily: these are prudential decisions for husband and wife. But it’s a conversation we need to have.

Consider these:

But here’s the key thing. What do they always tell you before the plane takes off?Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. When Christians stride confidently out to change the world without having first taken care to be fully shaped and formed by the Christian account of things, they (a) have very little that’s distinctive to offer others and (b) are themselves easily swayed by thoroughly non-Christian ways of thinking and acting, with results we have recently had thoroughly documented for us.

Ultimately, whatever specific form the Benedict Option takes, this is what it’s about: securing our own oxygen mask first before attempting to assist others.

– Alan Jacobs, First Things First

“If I were giving a very short answer to PEG’s question, I would say the Benedict Option isn’t about just working on being more pious (whether alone or in community) but about rearranging your life and community so there are spaces where joyful piety happens to you more often; a few spaces where your Catholicism doesn’t feel like an act of resistance, any more than eating does.”

– Leah Libresco, Give Us Bread, Roses and Benedict Options

More helpful reading:

Arguing About the Benedict Option, Rod Dreher, (his other posts here)
The Benedict Option, Part One: Build a Little Birdhouse in Your Soul, from Eve Tushnet
The Benedict Option: What Does It Really Mean?, from R. Jared Staudt

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