The Benedict Option

We have finally finished the book and Our commentary is below.

The Benedict Option was published in March of this year. It was written by Rod Dreher, who was a Catholic at one time, but now is Orthodox. He is appealing to all, who call themselves Christians. He is calling for a reform similar to the reform in the world around the time of Saint Benedict.

In fact, he would like to see another Saint Benedict arise. The New York Times says of this best selling book: “One of these is my friend Rod Dreher, whose new book, “The Benedict Option,” is already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.”

The Benedict Option, pages 50-1 reports the basis of the Benedictine way of life: “Benedict’s Rule is a detailed set of instructions for how to organize and govern a monastic community, in which monks (and separately, nuns) live together in poverty and chastity. That is common to all monastic living, but Benedict’s Rule adds three distinct vows: obedience, stability (fidelity to the same monastic community until death), and conversion of life, which means dedicating oneself to the lifelong work of deepening repentance.”

Evil Triumphs, When Good Men Do Nothing

The Benedict Option, page 98: “Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good. Start a church, or a group within your church. Open a classical Christian school, or join and stengthen one that exists. Plant a garden, and participate in a local farmer’s market. Teach kids how to play music, and start a band. Join the volunteer fire department.”

I would add, join the neighborhood improvement association. I joined three and a half years ago, when I moved to the Oakland Neighborhood of Topeka. Without groups like this, many things would not get done in our neighborhoods. And now, I was asked to be president for two years.

Of course, I don’t recommend starting a new church, but it is time that we Catholics got busy in the Church. What are we doing to strenghthen our own faith and the faith of others. Saint John Chrysostom says: “He who is content with saving himself and neglects the salvation of others cannot secure his own salvation.” (Chapter 18 of Matthew Sermon 60) Saint Thomas Aquinas writes: “In cases of necessity where faith is in danger, every one is bound to proclaim his faith to others, either to give good example and encouragement to the rest of the faithful, or to check the attacks of unbelievers.” (II-II Q3 A2 reply 1)

The Benedict Option, page 118: “The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful – and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.” Saint Gregory Nanzianzen says: “We must first be purified and then purify others; be filled with wisdom and make others wise; become light and give light; be near to God and lead others to Him; be sanctified and sanctify; guide others by the hand and counsel them with knowledge.” We need to LIVE the Catholic way of life and preach more by our way of life than we ever do by our words.

This book begins by pointing out what we have been doing wrong, which I will summarize as I have mentioned before. We have gotten too focused on a few issues and neglected to purify our own selves. And thus we are on the road to hell. How many have spent decades fighting the abortion battle, and now we are being siphoned off into the gay marriage fight. There is a paper published monthly here that published an article on the problem of gay marriage. Shortly after the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage the author pointed out that we lost this fight a half a century ago, when we did not fight no-fault divorce.

What this book calls for is not to fight all of the many problems of neo-paganism, which has taken over the world. We live in a world worse than pagan Rome. Rather we need to undertake a reform of our own lives, our families and the Church much as Saint Benedict did in his own time over a millennium ago. We need to be saints. In fact, some have said that the greatest saints will live in these times, and each and every one of us are called to be those saints. Think of that every time you look in the mirror, the person staring back is called to be a SAINT. This is no time for half measures.

In Butler’s Lives of the Saints, we read: “The primitive Christians converted the world by the sanctity of their example; and, by the spirit of every heroic and divine virtue which their actions breathed, spread the good smell of Christ on all sides: but we, by a monstrous inconsistency between our lives and our faith, scandalize the weak among the faithful, strengthen obstinacy of infidels, and furnish them with weapons against that very religion which we profess. “Either change thy faith, or change thy manners”, said an ancient father.”

Practice What We Preach

The Benedict Option, pages 52-3: “Right belief (orthodoxy) is essential, but holding the correct doctrines in your mind does you little good if your heart – the seat of the will – remains unconverted. That requires putting those right beliefs into action through right practice (orthopraxy), which over time achieves the goal Paul set for Timothy when he commanded him to ‘discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.’ (I Timothy 4:7)”

I Timothy 4:6-8: “These things proposing to the brethren, thou shalt be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished up in the words of faith, and of the good doctrine which thou hast attained unto. [7] But avoid foolish and old wives’ fables: and exercise thyself unto godliness. [8] For bodily exercise is profitable to little: but godliness is profitable to all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. [9] A faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.”

Make the Home a Little Monastery

The Benedict Option, page 15: “In his Rule, Benedict described the monastery as a ‘school for the Lord’s service.’” On page 137 we read: “Ultimately I want to provide tools and resources for all Christian families to make their homes little monasteries.” And on page 230: “If we don’t treat our homes and schools as monasteries, strictly limiting both the information that comes to our kids (for the sake of their own inner formation), as well as their access to brain-altering technologies, we are forfeiting our responsibilities as stewards of their souls-and our own.”

Saint John Chrysostom calls the home a little church. Indeed this idea is quite good as we will see moving forward. The home needs to be a place of prayer and work, similar to a Benedictine monastery. There must be times set aside for quiet prayer, for reading and for the children to play outside.

Limit The World

The Benedict Option, page 126: “A monastery keeps outside its walls people and things that are inimical to its purpose, which is to form its members in Christ. For families, this means strictly limiting media, especially television and online media, both to keep unsuitable content out and to prevent the dependence on electronic media. It is also important for parents to do the same for themselves. True, adults should not be expected to keep their movie and TV watching to the level of children, but neither should they feel free to watch whatever they like. Too much exposure to morally compromising material will, over time, dull one’s moral instincts. Remember, life in monastic community is for the Abbot’s formation too.”

This book is actually lax. We must not invite anything immoral into our homes, if we are single. The married have a far greater duty in this regard. And how many programs are per se (of themselves) immoral? One of the co-stars of a series over three decades ago had the habit of using the Lord’s Name in vain at least once in each episode. That should be enough to ban the program right there. Take another, Law And Order SVU. The main premise is investigating sexually based crimes. This program portrays things we should not even know about. And consider that a book instructing confessors tells us that the ballet is mortally sinful, because of the tight fitting costumes and suggestive movements. It is easy to become lax with the television, and this has corrupted us all. It is time to live differently. In fact, we may be tempted to haul the TV to the curb.

Go Out From Her My People

II Corinthians 6:17-18: “Wherefore, Go out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: And I will receive you; and I will be a Father to you; and you shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” The Douay refers us to Isaias 52:11: “Depart, depart, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing: go out of the midst of her, be ye clean, you that carry the vessels of the Lord.” The Vulgate refers us to Apocalypse 18:4: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying: Go out from her, my people; that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues. (5) For her sins have reached unto heaven, and the Lord hath remembered her iniquities.”

Let us also consider the first two verses of the twelfth chapter of Romans: “I BESEECH you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.”

We are called to separate from the false ideals of the world.

Oremus

The Benedict Option, page 228: “Stilling my mind for an hour of prayer was incredibly difficult, but it eventually opened up a beachhead in which the Holy Spirit would work to calm the stormy waters within.”

In Characteristics of True Devotion we read: “Prayer is rather God’s work than our own, but all devotion is comprised in the practice of prayer and mortification; and, the more devoted one is, the more one progresses in both of these. There is a reciprocal relationship between God and the soul which is devoted to Him; for God takes care of the prayer, while the soul takes care of the mortification; not that He does not extend His hand, and co-operate with the soul in one as well as with the other; but prayer is principally the work of grace, and mortification the work of the will.”

Basically we should organize our mortifications to remove all obstacles to prayer and our work in our lives. This is why we set aside an hour, sixty minutes, of quiet time for prayer. No TV, no smartphone, no tablet, etc. Just God and me should be the goal. And yes, we need an hour each day. And the other twenty-three should find us in silence as much as duty will allow in the spirit of prayer.

Spiritual reading

The Benedict Option, page 105: “We Christians today can create that new culture based on returning in creative ways to that very old one. We are called to be a new – and quite different – Saint Polycarp, Saint Irenaeus, Saint Augustine, and so forth. The best way to do that is to immerse ourselves in the words and the world of the old saints.”

What we need to do is to immerse ourselves in truth and ignore error as much as possible. We need to spend a notable amount of time with Sacred Scripture. We need to do the same with the writings of the saints, especially the Fathers of the Church. And we need to take all of these things to heart.

Fasting

This book also recommends fasting, which for Catholics is already built into the law. We begin with abstaining from meat on Fridays. Then we fast, during Lent. We also fast on the other three sets of Ember Days, as well as on the Vigils of Christmas, All Saints, Pentecost and the Immaculate Conception. Some also fast at other times voluntarily, such as on Saturdays in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And our fast should not be limited to restricting the quality and quantity of food. This book recommends fasting also from technology on occasion.

“But I chastise my body, and bring it into subjection: lest perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.” (I Corinthians 9:27)

What Is Your Vocation?

The Benedict Option, page 177: “In 1603, the early English Puritan theologian William Perkins delivered a sermon in which he defined vocation as ‘a certain kind of life ordained and imposed on man by God for the common good.’ Perkins explained that every man – king, pastor, soldier, husband, father, and so on – has a God-given vocation. He likened the symphony of vocations in society to the working of a clock, each gear turning in harmony for the common purpose of keeping time.”

Saint Paul says: (I Corinthians 12:26-31): “And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But be zealous for the better gifts. And I shew unto you yet a more excellent way.”

This is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. We all have different functions. One is a finger, while another is a foot, etc. Just as the clock cannot function if all of the parts are not also in their proper place and proper repair, neither can the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

Charity

The Benedict Option, page 126: “Hospitality is a central principle of the Benedictine life, but I didn’t learn it from the monks. I got it from my folks. My mother and father had a well-deserved reputation for welcoming others to their hearth and table.”

Hospitality is one aspect of charity, but an important one. It is a good idea to spend some considerable time in meditating on the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Saint Alphonsus wrote well on this, which has been reprinted as: Charity: A Commentary on I Corinthians 13.

We Belong to God

The Benedict Option, page 201: “The point, however, is that to the premodern Christian imagination, sex was filled with cosmic meaning in a way it no longer is. Paul admonished the Corinthians to ‘flee spiritual immorality’ (I Corinthians 6:18) because the body was a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ and warned them that ‘you are not your own.’ (I Corinthians 6:19) He was telling them that their bodies are sacred vessels that belong to God, who, in Christ, ‘all things hold together’ (Colossians 1:17).”

The main point here is that we are not our own, but the property of Almighty God to do with as He pleases. We have lost sight of this most important point, which is why we pursue pleasure as an end. We have not determined what our true end is and what means we are to use in order to obtain our end. We have confused ends and means.

The Benedict Option, page 44 reports the attitude of many people today: “Following your own heart, no matter what society says, or the church, or anyone else. This kind of thinking is devastating to every kind of social stability but especially the church. The church, a community that authoritatively teaches and disciples (teaches) its members, cannot withstand a revolution in which each member becomes, in effect, his own pope.”

Truth is one, error is many. It is our duty is to conform our lives to Truth, that is Almighty God and to the Word of God. We cannot pick and choose. Once we reject one truth, we cease to be Christian. “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) And after Jesus had given a hard saying to the people, what did He do? Read the sixth chapter of Saint John from verse 56 to the end.

“After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away?” (John 6:67-68) Instead of compromising and running after the people, Jesus stood firm and turned to the Apostles and asked them if they were going to leave too.

Let us return to our first point, we belong to God. We are His property to do with as He pleases. He has pleased to give us a way of life through His Son, Who in turn gives it to us through the Gospels.

A Warning

The Benedict Option, page 129: “’My parents were very paranoid people. They’re conspiracy theorists. They’re afraid that if they exposed their children to the outside world, we were going to be corrupted, because they see the world as this filthy, filthy place,’ she told me. ‘That total sheltering is very damaging, and cutting yourself off from the world like that is exactly the kind of environment you need to develop a cult.’”

Jesus said (Matthew 5:13-15): “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men. You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.”

And yet many of us are happy to put our light under a bushel. But this is a fire hazard, a spiritual fire hazard. As we quoted Saint John Chrysostom above: “He who is content with saving himself and neglects the salvation of others cannot secure his own salvation.”

“But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.” (I Peter 3:15) Maybe our problem is that we have no hope in us.

We have become so mesmerized with what we see wrong in the world and the fruitlessness of our frontal attacks, that we have lost sight of what is truly important, and thus lost hope.

“But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42) Unfortunately we have abandoned the one thing necessary in favor of endless and fruitless debates and battles.

Have you noticed that we are always offered two options: capitalism or communism, right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat. It is presumed that since one is wrong, the other must be right. However, possibly both sides are wrong and we need to seek a third option. We must not compromise and accept the lesser of two evils. We are supposed to be seeking good.

There is a saying: “When you are up to your backside in alligators, it is hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp.” We have been trying to drain the swamp for a half a century, while the alligators have multiplied. It is time to move to higher ground, because only God can drain this swamp.

We need to go to higher ground spiritually. We have become lukewarm and satisfied with mediocrity. “But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.” (Apocalypse 3:16) Instead of the Church Militant, we have become the Church Comfortable; comfortable with the niche we have carved our for ourself. We need to live as the early Christians did. They were ready for martyrdom, which we may soon see ourselves. We prepare for martyrdom, by dying to self and living for Christ every day. “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The lukewarm will become the lapsi, when put to the test of martyrdom. These were called lapsi, because they lapsed from the faith and sacrificed to false gods. Martyrdom is a grace given to those, who have already surrendered their life completely to Almighty God without any reservation.

And yes, there are those, who held something back from God, who lost the grace of martyrdom and died in their sins. There is the case of two men, who had a dispute. One repented and asked the forgiveness of the other. The second man refused to forgive. The second man was apprehended. The first came one last time to beg forgiveness, but the second again refused. Soon the second lapsed from the Faith, while the first was taken in his place and died a glorious martyrdom.

Then there is the case of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste, who were condemned to freeze to death on a frozen lake. They sang through the night: “O Lord, forty of us have begun to run in the race, grant that all forty may receive the crown, let not one be wanting at the last.” One guard was watching and admiring their constancy. Towards morning one jumped into the warm bath that had been prepared to tempt them. The guard joined the forty and the forty went to heaven in a glorious martyrdom. The one in the bath warmed up and soon breathed his last.

A lax life is not crowned with martyrdom, only a fervent thoroughly Christian life is crowned.

Moving Forward

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. It is time to stop fighting losing battles and begin spiritual warfare, which starts with our own selves. It is time to dig out the roots of the Great Apostasy living in our own souls. And yes, they are there. The Benedict Option traces wrong thinking back three centuries further than I have. It goes back eight centuries, possibly further. Living in a neo-pagan, modernist, liberal world, it is difficult not to be influenced by the wrong thinking all around us. This is why we spend much time in the timeless truths of the Faith in order to purify our minds.

Saint Gregory Nanzianzen, a Father of the Church, gives us some sage advice: “We must first be purified and then purify others; be filled with wisdom and make others wise; become light and give light; be near to God and lead others to Him; be sanctified and sanctify; guide others by the hand and counsel them with knowledge.”

And let our speech be spiritual, encouraging and influencing others for good.

It is time for us to become the Saints God is calling each and every one of us to be.