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Does Pope Francis Oppose The Benedict Option?

Well, this is something. Last night at the University of Notre Dame, the Jesuit priest Antonio Spadaro, a close adviser of Pope Francis, explicitly denounced the Benedict Option [1], calling it a “Masada complex” that does not comport with the vision of Francis.

Here’s the video of the entire lecture. Start at about the 1:12 part, and watch him criticize the Ben Op:

Money quote:

“The so-called Benedict Option, as Rod Dreher describes the withdrawal of the Church into enclaves, would be an error, just as it would be an error to be nostalgic for bygone times by preparing harsh responses today.”

This is entirely dishonest. The most charitable spin on it is that the man has clearly not read my book. 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: [2]

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. I am no more arguing for retreating into quietist enclaves than the British high command withdrew its forces from Dunkirk beach for the sake of hiving away in merry old England and waiting the war out. I have made this point in the book, in public lectures, and on this blog, again and again. I am eager to accept criticism of my book — I certainly don’t have the answers — but critics ought to focus on what I’ve actually written than what they imagine I’ve written. But then, Father Spadaro’s understanding of American politics is so crackpot — even Commonweal, a liberal Catholic journal that fully backs Pope Francis, called his infamous essay on the subject “a mishmash of wild and erroneous claims” [3]— that I believe it is beyond his moral and intellectual strength to be honest on matters like this.

Nevertheless, I have a few remarks to make in response.

Earlier in the address (1:05), Spadaro denounces those politicians and others who are exploiting “fear of chaos.” They are “exaggerating disorder” and putting forth “worrying scenarios that bear no relation to reality.”

Let me remind Father Spadaro of a few inconvenient truths that counter his Candide Catholicism.

1. Catholicism — like Christianity in general — is flat on its back in Europe. [4] True, there are inspiring pockets of faith (I just spent some time with a few in Paris). And true, Poland is a beacon of hope in a continent grown cold from militant secularism — but for how long? [5]Still, the overall picture for the Church in Europe is grim. In personal conversations I had in Paris recently with both believers and non-believers, I found no one who thought the future was bright for Europe.

2. All of Europe is in demographic collapse [6] Take Portugal, for example:

Last year he created a commission dedicated to coming up with proposals to reverse the country’s dwindling birthrate. Led by Professor Joaquim Azevedo from the Catholic University of Portugal, a recent report by the commission warned that failure to reverse the demographic crisis could leave Portugal “unsustainable in terms of economic growth, social security and the welfare state.”

“We are losing our population, as we know. These matters are crystal clear,” said Azevedo. “ It is a reality. Facts are facts and that is what is happening.”

Ad hoc political solutions at a national level are failing. Italy has tried to overcome its bleak demographic outlook with initiatives ranging from pension cuts to a baby bonus, but the statistics are not on their side.

A couple of years ago, I spoke with a political scientist who studied the issue for the EU, which is desperately trying to come up with a way to boost birthrates. He concluded that absent a religious revival, it simply was not going to happen. He said the EU officials were not happy with this. In the central Asian nation of Georgia, which is Orthodox Christian, it now appears that the birthrate among married Georgians went up in response to a campaign by Patriarch Ilia.  [7]

3. Europe is being overwhelmed by migration. Which is being encouraged by the Pope and many Catholic bishops, note well. A closely related problem: Europeans are struggling to deal with problems successfully integrating Muslims.

4. In the United States, Catholicism is declining faster than any other church. [8] “And perhaps more troubling for the church, for every one Catholic convert, more than six Catholics leave the church.”

5. In terms of catechesis and Catholic identity, the US Catholic Church is facing a catastrophe. Here are excerpts from a Commonweal story about sociologist Christian Smith’s book concerning Catholic youth [9]:

Here’s the bad news for Commonweal readers, and we may as well get right to it: Just over half the young people raised by parents who describe themselves as “liberal” Catholics stop going to Mass entirely once they become “emerging adults”—a new demographic category that means either prolonged adolescence or delayed adulthood, defined here in Young Catholic America as ages eighteen to twenty-three.

But now, let’s put that sad trend in perspective: The picture isn’t all that much better for the children of “traditional” Catholics. Although only a quarter of those young adults say they’ve stopped going to Mass entirely, only 17 percent say they’re going every week, and in general, their allegiance to church membership and participation seems nearly as faded as the kids of so-called feckless liberals.

The fact is: In this discouraging book, the future looks bad for just about every flavor of Catholic. For those who remember Commonweal’s series on “Raising Catholic Kids” [10] last November, the worry expressed by those dedicated, well-meaning parents seems here to be fully justified. You may hear about pockets of enthusiastically “orthodox” young adults out there somewhere, but as my old mentor in the market-research business used to say, the plural of the word “anecdote” is not “data.” Smith (a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame) and his co-authors have the data, and it tells us that the majority of Catholic “emergers” are, by our historical standards, not what we are used to thinking of as practicing Catholics at all.

That “Raising Catholic Kids” series had this excruciatingly sad account from Sidney Callahan. [11] Excerpt:

In 1967, my husband Dan and I, along with our five sons and one daughter (all born between 1955 and ’65), could be found each Sunday at Mass. Everyone was baptized, the three oldest confirmed. I had been teaching in the CCD program for seven years. We were a full-court-press Catholic family, members of the Christian Family Movement (observe, judge, act), Catholic Worker enthusiasts, and eager advocates of Vatican II reforms. Dan was an editor of Commonweal and we both wrote for and participated in exciting Catholic intellectual circles. Forty-six years later, I sit alone in the same pew on Sundays, and have been doing so for decades. I remain a grateful Catholic convert, while everyone else in the family is long gone from the church.

Got that? She is the only member of her family still in the Church. 

Christian Smith’s broader work on the religious beliefs and identities of younger Americans — not only Catholics — reveals trends that ought to be extremely worrying to any serious Christian, not least the Roman pontiff. Check out this 2009 interview Smith gave to Christianity Today. [12]Excerpt:

… the center of gravity among emerging adults is definitely MTD. Most emerging adults view religion as training in becoming a good person. And they think they are basically good people. To not be a good person, you have to be a horrible person. Therefore, everything’s fine.

I have done a lot of traveling in the US and abroad doing Benedict Option research and speaking. I repeatedly hear the same message, no matter where I am: young adults today who still identify as Christian know little to nothing about the Christian faith, either in terms of content or in terms of how to practice it in daily life. To the extent they have any faith at all, it usually turns out to be entirely emotional. I often return to a discussion I observed among older (conservative) Catholics and younger (conservative) Catholic academics. The older ones were still operating under the impression that the young ones had basic Catholic formation, however lacking. The younger profs told them that this is completely unrealistic, that the undergraduates they were seeing on their campus in most cases knew nothing.

So: when I hear professional church bureaucrats like Father Spadaro telling the world to relax, everything is just fine, that the concerns of Christians like me “bear no relation to reality,” it makes me furious. It’s an attempt to anesthetize the faithful. It’s a self-serving lie, and it’s a lie that is going to cost a lot of people their souls.

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 [2], “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.

In 2016, the Pope said, of the Apostles: [13]

“This is the witness – not only with words but also with everyday life – the  testimony that every Sunday should go out of our churches in order to enter throughout the whole week into our homes, our offices, our schools, our gathering places and entertainment venues, our hospitals, prisons, and homes for the elderly, into places crowded with immigrants, on the outskirts of the city. We must carry this witness every week: Christ is with us; Jesus is ascended to heaven; He is with us; Christ is alive!”

Amen to that! (Note well: a “Masada complex” Christian would not say that.) But you cannot send people out to feed the world with empty bread baskets. You cannot send soldiers into battle without training and armor. The Benedict Option is not a “Masada complex,” but rather an attempt to take on a more radical strategy of forming serious orthodox Christians — morally, intellectually, and spiritually — precisely so we can go out and give the true faith to the world. Father Spadaro lives in Italy. If he wants to see a real Benedict Option community, he should drive across the peninsula from Rome and visit the Tipi Loschi, in San Benedetto del Tronto. There is no Masada complex among those people — only robust, joyful, orthodox Catholicism. They are not supposed to exist — but they do!

The Father Spadaros of the world are content to manage decline in a spirit of appeasement. They bring to mind this quote a friend sent me from a 1986 essay by the Polish intellectual Leszek Kolakowski:

Therefore Nietzsche did not become the explicit orthodoxy of our age. The explicit orthodoxy still consists of patching up. We try to assert our modernity but escape from its effects by various intellectual devices, in order to convince ourselves that meaning can be restored or recovered apart from the traditional religious legacy of mankind and in spite of the destruction brought about by modernity. Some versions of liberal pop-theology contribute to this work. So do some varieties of Marxism. Nobody can foresee for how long and to what extent this work of appeasement may prove successful. But the previously mentioned intellectuals’ awakening to the dangers of secularity does not seem to be a promising avenue for getting out of our present predicament, not because such reflections are false, but because we may suspect they are born of an inconsistent, manipulative spirit.

There is something alarmingly desperate in intellectuals who have no religious attachment, faith or loyalty proper and who insist on the irreplaceable educational and moral role of religion in our world and deplore its fragility, to which they themselves eminently bear witness. I do not blame them either for being irreligious or for asserting the crucial value of religious experience; I simply cannot persuade myself that their work might produce changes they believe desirable, because to spread faith, faith is needed and not an intellectual assertion of the social utility of faith. And the modern reflection on the place of the sacred in human life does not want to be manipulative in the sense of Machiavelli or of the seventeenth-century libertines who admitted that while piety was necessary for the simpletons, skeptical incredulity suited the enlightened. Therefore such an approach, however understandable, not only leaves us where we were before but is itself a product of the same modernity it tries to restrict, and it expresses modernity’s melancholic dissatisfaction with itself.

I wrote The Benedict Option [2] for Christians who prefer to see the world as it really is, and not to reconcile themselves to our eclipse or surrender, nor to trust the feckless leadership of our religious institutions to guide us out of the dark wood in which we find ourselves. Father Spadaro and his kind [14]are pied pipers. To have him mischaracterize and denounce my Benedict Option ideas is an honor. It is certainly clarifying.

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.

UPDATE: Reader Nate J., spot on:

I find myself having difficulty discussing the breakdown of Christianity in my own part of the world with the older generations. Mostly, I don’t think they intend to be misleading or deliberately obtuse, turning a blind eye to problems they know exist; most are simply oblivious.

They don’t visit Reddit, or use Facebook or Twitter. They don’t get their information from the same places as the millennial generation and do not interact with the world the same way. It’s so hard to get it into their heads how actively hostile the world is to the Christian message.

Compounding the problem is that these older church leaders remain largely unchallenged by any new blood entering, so they retain their positions of leadership by default. It’s a nasty, self-feeding cycle whereby the blind continue to lead the blind. They imagine a time when there was a Christian consensus in the western world. For them, the world just needs to be tweaked a bit and – presto! – we’re back to the way things were. They don’t get that people enter adulthood with their brains almost hardwired in a fundamentally different way.

This is probably most evident in the modern sexual ethic, which is why stuffy, prudish, social conservatives like me tend to get “so worked up about it.” Sex, reproduction, and family formation have become radically disentangled to the point where these three fundamentally related (and interdependent) concepts can be viewed entirely discreetly. Meanwhile, the global neoliberal elite cannot understand the issue correctly either (in some ways, perhaps they are just as oblivious as the typical octogenarian church bishop or elder), thinking that problems of collapsing demographics can be solved by sprinkling a little more economic incentive over it, so steeped in their progressive worldview that they have forgotten that reproduction was never an economic decision to begin with (and, thus, relatively immune to the classic laws of supply and demand and all that).

Both the secular and Christian church leadership miss the point that cultural issues cannot be solved primarily by political means. The Benedict Option matters precisely because we need to send a new generation of leaders out into the world who understand this – who put at least as much effort into their local communities and churches as they do into their political ambitions.

UPDATE.2.: Reader Heidi:

We went to a Jesuit church away from home this past weekend for Mass. During the service a special prayer was offered for Fr. Martin, the much maligned Jesuit, who is essentially trying to change church doctrine and cloaking it in “dialog” and “understanding”. Specifically it was asked that we pray that he not suffer anymore “persecution” at the hands of the uninformed. This same church had an LGBTQ+ small group that met each week to discuss the running of the parish with a focus on inclusivity, a Lesbian Women’s group and a Gay Men’s group. Also advertised in the Sunday bulletin was a Gay Getaway trip planned for the spring. That the priest would also be going on. This is clearly a…shift. In the same direction that Protestantism flew with alacrity and we can see where that got *them*. So, this criticism of Spadaro’s is no surprise to me. What can we expect from that specific faction? They don’t seem to have a strong enough attachment to retaining the foundational teachings of the religion they are tasked with representing, but, instead, are willing to go where the wind will blow them in order to stay “relevant.” Hundreds of years of thinking about these issues be damned. Your observation that the world is too much in Christianity is exactly correct and now, as a Catholic, I’m watching the Mother Church go the way of the Episcopalians. It may be too soon to wave goodbye but I’m not certain of that…perhaps I should begin my studies of the Ausbund now.

Reader PatC:

As a college student, I’ve seen where the energy coming out of Christian groups is coming from, and it was kind of shocking to me. Korean-Americans, or students from Korea and China, in what I believe to be an Evangelical church, are the ones who actually go up to people, talk to them about faith and spirituality and are willing to put their principles out in the open. I went to one of their meetings when invited (I am Catholic, but I figured it would be nice to at least meet new people), and what I saw was actually quite similar to what the Benedict Option speaks of.

It was a community of people who talk about their faith, the theological reasons for it (I won’t bore you with the differences of opinion between this group and Catholicism, but the conversations were actually quite enlightening), and how to arm themselves when speaking to skeptics about why their faith was important to them.

I made quite a few friends in that group, but I have to say that I was ashamed in some ways, as this is something that the Catholic student group should be doing themselves. The Catholic group on campus, when I’ve gone to their meetings, talks incessantly about how we can make ourselves more acceptable to the overriding secular culture on campus, but does nothing to build a community of faith.

The idea of MTD for western youth, as you describe, really kind of runs rampant, but it is less an honest belief about the world rather than a defense against the world. Catholic students will default to say things about that in an effort to avoid scrutiny. What they are increasingly finding, however, is that it is not enough anymore. Any talk of issues of sexual ethics or salvation are scary not just to mainstream secularists but to Catholic students as well, and as we saw with those Senate hearings, its not going to get any better.

I don’t know this for sure, but I believe that the environments for Christians in North East Asia has sort of forced them to live in their own communities and build from there; western Christians might find that the day they need to do this will come quicker than they would expect.

The Catholic college students you describe remind me of some of the older Catholics I met in France: desperate to convince the unbelieving world that they’re really good people, and can be trusted and relied on.

UPDATE.3: I changed the title of this blog a bit because in truth, I don’t know if Pope Francis opposes the Benedict Option. I only know that Fr. Spadaro does, and I don’t have confidence that he actually read the book. If I were actually calling on Catholics and other Christians to hide away in compounds and turn their back to the world, then I could say yes, Pope Francis really does oppose the Ben Op. But I don’t say that. It is possible that he would agree with it, or at least some of it, if he knew what it was. Maybe not, but again, I don’t trust Father Spadaro’s judgment, and after all, it was he who opposes the Ben Op to Francis, not Francis.

67 Comments (Open | Close)

67 Comments To "Does Pope Francis Oppose The Benedict Option?"

#1 Comment By JonF On October 12, 2017 @ 9:41 am

Re: In pre-welfare state societies, children were an important source of support for parents in their old age.

I’m going to pick some nits on this statement, because until fairly recently there was no need to be supported in old age because very few people reached a state where they could not care for themselves. Long before frailty and decrepitude reached that advanced state opportunistic infections carried people off. Retirement is a modern invention– for most of history people worked until they died.

#2 Comment By dominic1955 On October 12, 2017 @ 10:00 am

We could be strong when we were of basically one mind, putting on the mind of Christ in Pauline terms. This requires, from the leaders so especially the Pope, major prelates and even the rest of the clerics to be explicitly for Catholicism-in all its baroque old timey glory. Some people during the time of Vatican II forgot this basic truth, that it’s not healthy to go cutting away at the externals to find some sort of bare essentials (fundamentals?) and start over.

People like Spadaro are still caught up on the fantasies of certain Catholic intellectual elites who prophetized that this modernization would bring about some grand golden era. It’s very naive but it had a strong pull on that generation. So much so that they cannot see how Old Catholic Europe basically is no more. There is still enough going such that they can kid themselves that it’s all fine but we know it isn’t.

The Church needed to approach the horrors of the two world wars, the rise of totalitarianism, etc. but I think our responses on all that failed miserably. While people were becoming unmoored and looking for answers again, we decided to tell them we were looking too and the gig was up.

Now, after a few decades of trying to shore things up we are back to offering pap and feelz. Contra “Soul of the Apostolate” we seem to be getting told we just need to go be social workers as Christians. All of this will fail too.

#3 Comment By ginger On October 12, 2017 @ 10:28 am

“Not everybody is going to do that, granted, but it seems to me massively irresponsible of Christians to keep their heads in the ground amid this crisis. You don’t have to read Christian Smith to understand that the West, and the Christian faith in the West, is in serious trouble.”

Our priest regularly preaches on the dangers and horrors of the current culture (technology, porn, abortion–even contraception!!) , and the need for prayer and repentance and regular reception of the sacraments. Shouldn’t that be enough for regular Old Joe Catholic? I can’t find it in my heart to criticize all these old people in the pews (I call them the “Blue Hair Brigade”) who show up for mass every Sunday, many of whom help run the parish (we have a wide variety of 6-week programs on “Discovering Christ” and other types of catechesis, etc), babysit for families who attend family faith formation, host a weekly coffee house, and on and on, for not studying up on the Decline of Western Christianity.

When I am old, I want to enjoy my golden years after decades of the hard work of raising a family nowadays, not be harangued because I’m not reading enough about the latest crisis in Christianity. After all, there have been a lot of those in the past 500 years (actually, in the past 2000 years), and all the worrying, reading, and studying in the world hasn’t changed that fact.

#4 Comment By Tiago Cavaco On October 12, 2017 @ 10:28 am

Rod, you’re an Orthodox in a protestant country and I’m a protestant in a catholic country (Portugal). Believe me when I say that for you to really understand catholicism, you should spend some time in a catholic country. Catholicism is indeed a refuse to engage with the world in terms of contrast. Perceiving itself as salvation, the Roman Catholic Church can not separate itself from the world because that will look like she’s condemning it. The Church has to be the world’s best expression, which really means a way of property and not a way of prophecy. Although you identify as an Orthodox, you operate with basic protestant categories (being an american). Even Bentley Hart does. European catholics and orthodox will only care about you if they’re young, because they have modern and protestant ways of being orthodox and catholic. In this sense, the present is necessarily protestant. That’s why protestants get you like no one else does. And that’s why should not be surprised about how the official voices of the Roman Catholic Church will talk about you and your book.

#5 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 12, 2017 @ 10:55 am

They don’t visit Reddit, or use Facebook or Twitter. They don’t get their information from the same places as the millennial generation and do not interact with the world the same way. It’s so hard to get it into their heads how actively hostile the world is to the Christian message.

Depends on who your friends are, I guess. I aovided Facebook for years, only tried it a little over a year ago. I see constant posts praising God and asking for an Amen. This from people who despise the Republican Party, are genuinely afraid of what the future will be like in a country that elected Donald Trump, and many even like Hillary Clinton.

There can be few higher honors, nor any greater signifier of courage, intelligence and integrity, than to be condemned by the most ignorant and vilest of the creatures of the sewer called the Vatican

That was damning Rod with loud praise.

#6 Comment By No Comment On October 12, 2017 @ 11:10 am

A denunciation from close advisor Pope Francis is just evidence you are on the right track.

A lot of powerfully influential Christians throughout the Christian intelligentsia and across the denominational spectrum seem heavily invested in discredting your book using distortions, half-truths and outright lies, It’s interesting and very revealing.

#7 Comment By Gerry Shuller On October 12, 2017 @ 12:31 pm

Only a moron would give an anecdote to prove that anecdotes are useless.

#8 Comment By KevinS On October 12, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

JonF writes,

“Re: In pre-welfare state societies, children were an important source of support for parents in their old age.

I’m going to pick some nits on this statement, because until fairly recently there was no need to be supported in old age because very few people reached a state where they could not care for themselves. Long before frailty and decrepitude reached that advanced state opportunistic infections carried people off. Retirement is a modern invention– for most of history people worked until they died.”

The nit pick even further, you have a point. But we need to remember that many people did live quite long (low average life expectancy figures are heavily skewed by high infant mortality rates, not adults dying at very young ages). People could not know if they would make it into old age but they saw many around them who did. Since this was a very real (not remote) possibility, people needed to think about issues of support, which came mainly from their family/children.

#9 Comment By J May On October 12, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

I’m reminded of an interview I recently did with one of the primary leaders of the 70’s Jesus Movement for a forthcoming podcast. Her testimony was that the vast majority of the hippies here in the Northwest converted to Christianity during the movement. The movement was so shocking to our society that she was featured in Life and Time magazine regularly.

This is why I’m reminded of this interview: it all started with those who were most radically, foundationally devoted to their faith. Chuck Smith in SoCal would go to the beach and preach to the hippies. Linda (the woman I interviewed) would stand up on park benches and preach to hundreds of hippies as they were partying. In one weekend of doing that she led a procession of new converts from a park in Spokane to the river in the middle of the town and baptized all 350 of them.

This wasn’t just some hyped-up appeal to stoners, either. Most of the new converts made a habit of organizing into Christian discipleship communities where they lived together and oriented their lives around Christian formation. What I discovered while researching this movement was that the most committed Protestant Christians I have encountered in this area were in some way or another products of that movement in the 70’s. It wasn’t a flash in the pan thing.

It is a mistake to take all of Evangelicalism as completly emotion-based. Unfortunately, those that make this critique in an absolutist way seem to also have an unspoken belief that what is missing is mere intellectualism. Lack of thinking is not the main issue. What’s most missing is faith. Faith to actually live out the Christian way and all the implications of Christ’s teachings. The level of faith that the martyrs and apostles had.

Of course we should be good thinkers, but at the end of the day, we have to come to terms with the fact that we are a redeemed people in a sin-scarred world. We are, and should be, most unusual.

And that brings me back to the Jesus Movement. The term “Jesus Freak” was worn like a badge. I’m sure there are cases of it being a gimmicky thing, but the stories I hear are of people who accepted that they were freaks to this world from the outset and, in so doing, actually bore a profound prophetic witness to a dying world. They understood to be a disciple of a guy who was obedient to death meant they themselves should expect to have no claim in this world either.

It’s the very opposite of what your reader spoke about that campus Catholic group (and is true of most protestant groups). I’m not saying we need to call ourselves freaks, but we should take a page out of that old playbook that calls for the peaceful acceptance of our outcast status from the Empire. This that we might with integrity call people into the Kingdom, because, you know, once we stop dilly-dallying with the Empire, the Kingdom is allowed to become a manifested reality in our lives.

Rod, I know you are not Evangelical, but wouldn’t you say this story resonates on an essential level with a lot of what you’ve been advocating for?

#10 Comment By Anne On October 12, 2017 @ 2:12 pm

“…it’s fine that he’s popular with the unchurched and non-Christian, but what is he [the Pope] doing that would bring them into the church? — RD”

Making the Church seem less a gathering of judgmental gatekeepers than the spiritual home of pilgrims struggling to follow Christ, for one. Of course, there will always be those more attracted by exclusivity, moral, spiritual or otherwise, than the “universality” implied in a group that welcomes just anybody, but that’s not supposed to be the concern of “catholic” Christians who are, after all, striving to pattern their lives on the Jewish Messiah who dined with tax collectors — “appeasers” by definition — and sinners.

The fact is Catholic Church leaders have long been well aware of demographics. Vatican II itself was a radical attempt to deal with what BenOp enthusiasts sometimes sound as if they just discovered some 50-plus years later. For decades now, the powers-that-be in the Church have been focusing evangelization efforts on bringing back “fallen-away” Catholics, even as abusive priests and the bishops who covered for them fostered the atmosphere — and eventually the scandal — that drove many of them out. I find it ironic, to say the least, that the Pope who came along after the flood, so to speak, and who set about re-imaging the Church as a “field hospital” for the wounded and alienated is himself being called the primary danger to the faith. As if. Can a Church leader be too compassionate? Really?

As for Spadero and the BenOp, I see people with similar concerns talking past each other, although the conflict may be more fundamental than it seems. Spadero’s focus is external, addressing the Pope’s impact on the world at large, while the BenOp’s are almost entirely internal to the Church, addressing the twin issues of forming and retaining believers. The Pope’s concern with service presupposes a faith that nourishes and extends itself via praxis beyond the gates of the Church. The only criticism of the BenOp inherent in this would be that a lifestyle purposefully isolated from the surrounding culture renders such service both less likely and less fruitful in the end. You’re simply less likely to convert people you shun because you fear their impact on your faith. The Church itself employed that very strategy from the 16th century on, denouncing and effectively shunning both heretics and unbelievers until the rise of militant anti-belief in the form of Communism ultimately led its leadership to rethink and regroup in the mid-twentieth century. Recreating the “ghetto Catholicism” of my youth may seem necessary, even revolutionary, to those too young to remember why Vatican II happened, but repeating forgotten mistakes is hardly a winning strategy for the future.

None of this is to say the problems the BenOp refers to and seeks to fix aren’t real and in need of attention. Spadero is wrong to dismiss them as fundamentalist hoopla. But what he’s saying matters too. Anyone who’s witnessed the disproportionate hope some former Catholics and unchurched individuals have put in the few words of kindness and mercy this Pope has spoken, often in passing, can doubt he’s having an impact. That too is real. Whether we build on it or let it all go to fight our own internal battles will determine the next chapter in a long and convoluted history St. Paul thought would come to its close some two thousand years ago. Even he got it wrong.

#11 Comment By Anne On October 12, 2017 @ 3:19 pm

I sent a lengthy comment to this thread, fair to all sides, I thought; it posted as “awaiting moderation,” then disappeared. Poltergeists?

#12 Comment By Anne On October 12, 2017 @ 3:26 pm

Poltergeists. The missing comment popped up again as “awaiting moderation” when I posted my query. Sigh. Some days you just can’t win.

#13 Comment By Stephen Golay On October 12, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

I was reading with pleasure and profit, until his name roiled up, Fr James Martin (S.J. of course). S Benedict Optioner of a different sort.

Drawing in a more sober breath – will finish reading now.

#14 Comment By Ronald Sevenster On October 12, 2017 @ 7:36 pm

Mr. Dreher, don’t expect anything good from Sparado, the Vatican, or the Pope. Of course they are opposed to the “Benedict Option”. They want to destroy Christianity completely and replace it by a leftist neo-pagan pseudo-religion, a mix of Environmentalism (“Gaia” -worship), Neo-Marxism, and Sexual Liberalism a la Fr. Martin.

The Pope and the Vatican are our deadliest enemies and they will soon join forces with the liberal persecutors of the faith.

#15 Comment By Mia On October 12, 2017 @ 9:31 pm

Matteo Ricci and Alessandro Valignano are rolling in their graves now….Read up on their missionary style and how they dealt with a hostile, foreign culture. They certainly understood the need for prudence and nurturing. Too bad these Jesuits in name only have forgotten that.

#16 Comment By david On October 13, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

First in 2001 Pat Buchanan in “Death Of The West” talked about declining birth rates throughout the west. Russia stands to lose tens of millions of people especially in Siberia posing major problems with their neighbor to the east. So there’s nothing new here. Is there a spiritual aspect to this? Today we see some form of “Camp Of the Saints” coming to life both in Europe and in North America. But look at Acts 17:26-28. Is this happening so that people will come to God, to know His Son?

No one denies that Christians need to get stronger in the faith, to pray more, read the Bible more, spend more time with fellow Christians. But a key component to being a strong Christian is sharing our faith directly with others, to do as Christ said as He ascended into heaven in Acts 1:8 and be His witnesses to the utmost parts of the world. We cannot do that passively waiting for people to come to us. We must reach out directly to others, politely respectfully but do it taking risks if necessary. If Christ can die on the cross for us, we can take risks to share His message with others. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:2 PREACH THE WORD. That command is not just for priests and ordained ministers but for all of us.

Today we desperately need spiritual revival here, in Europe, The Philippines given what we see happening there and around the world and we need to beg God to send it just like Christians did in the late 1800’s. That resulted in D L Moody’s ministry. But while we implore God to send revival we cannot sit and do nothing. Again as one speaker said, if we want revival, draw a circle on the floor and get in it, revival starts with each on of us today. Imagine what would happen if five million Christians in this country shared their faith with five people a week for one year. Or if 10 million Christians did the same in Europe. And yet in this country we are told that only five percent of Christians share their faith directly with others on a regular basis. And we wonder why we see churches dying.

Yes let’s attend churches that do not compromise. Yes let’s pray unceasingly. Yes let’s be in the Word. Yes let’s get with fellow Christians. But also let’s get out there and obey God’s commands to Preach The Word, to be His witnesses, not your favorite team’s witness, not your favorite movie’s witness, but His witness.

#17 Comment By ck On October 14, 2017 @ 6:45 am

What is so dishonest about calling a “strategic withdrawl” a “withdrawl into enclaves”? Father Spadaro is simply criticizing the rationale of the strategy that Mr. Dreher is presupposing. Mr. Dreher, on one hand seems to be saying that Christians need to withdraw in order to grow in Christian virtue. Still this need does not explain the thing completely. Mr. Dreher tells us that present times are especially depraved, and that it is presumptuous for Christians to meet this secularized world without purifying ourselves of the secularism that has infected Christians themselves: we must return to what is ours in order to strengthen ourselves. But is Mr. Dreher’s conception of Christian virtue truly the Christian one? He thinks that the idea of (European) Christians being called to service is a wishy-washy expression. He thinks that it is better to say that Christians are called to Evanglization. But I feel that his notion of Evangelization is insufficiently Christian. He thinks of evangelization as a form of aggression. Behind his Christianity there is a theocratic scheme. Father Spadaro is acute in his appreciation of theocratic schemes. His much-maligned essay on the ecumenism of hate was very insightful in this sense. Mr. Dreher it seems to me, is a crypto-theocrat, not a vulgar theocrat. He would have us withdrawing from the world in resentment which hides itself in supposedly Christian reasons. There in this supposedly Christian withdrawl one is free to engage in those moralistic denunciations of our culture in which Mr. Dreher is so skilled. He does not withdraw from that. These denunciations are not without value; but they are infected by an un-Christian negativity. But Christians have something better to offer the world than moralism, and they should never cease to offer it, for they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The salt should not lose its savor. I fear that by strategic withdrawl, the salt will lose its savor. When Christians are weak they put their confidence in the Lord who makes them strong with the force of the Gospel, a Gospel which has nothing to do with theocracy.

[NFR: This post speaks to the richness of your inner life, but tell me: Have you read the book? — RD]