For the magazine piece I’m working on about the Benedict Option, I’m re-reading a very Catholic and somewhat eccentric (that’s a compliment) book called The Restoration of Christian Culture. Its author is John Senior (1923-1999), an extraordinary teacher whose courses in the Integrated Humanities program at the University of Kansas changed many lives, not least by birthing a number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Senior, a passionately traditionalist Catholic, credited the Rule of St. Benedict with saving Western civilization; you can easily imagine why I’m drawing from this book for the piece. I spoke with a teacher who lives in an informal lay agrarian community that has gathered around the Oklahoma Benedictine monastery founded in part by former students of Senior’s.
It has nothing to do with the Benedict Option, but I wanted to quote this passage from Senior’s book, about the education of children:
[A] severe warning is in order for Catholic parents who, the more conservative they are in their Faith, tend toward a Jansenism in their discipline of children. When a child hits twelve, he is ready for the adolescent experience, and that means the explosions of physical aptitudes and the emotional responses to them — the call to dangerous adventures and to experiments in romance. there is a certain kind of parent who wants to bind a child’s soul the way the Chinese are said to have bound their little girls’ feet to keep them dainty. There are Catholic families who proudly send their eighteen-year-olds up to college carefully bound and wrapped at the emotional and spiritual age of twelve — good little boys and girls in cute dresses and panty-waists who never get into trouble or into knowledge and love. The Kingdom of Heaven is the knowledge and love of God, and we learn to bear the living flames of that love only through suffering the paler heats of human desire; and adolescence is as necessary to the normal development of the body and soul as the Faith itself. Faith presupposes nature and cannot be efficacious in tis atrophy. There is little point in keeping children out of Hell if you don’t afford them the means of getting into Heaven.