Victor Morton alert! The Scottish Catholic Observer publishes an interview with Your Working Boy about The Benedict Option and its application to church life in Scotland. Editor Ian Dunn says that “it is already one of the most discussed books in America — and it only came out last week.” Excerpts:
“People assume I’m saying run for the mountains and build a bunker and await the end—it’s not that at all,” he tells me from his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“I’m calling for Christians to create spaces of real Christian contemplation, so we have the strength to go out into the world and be who Christ asked us to be.
“If we are not aware of ourselves as different from the world, and don’t do things to strengthen our Christian identity, we will be absorbed into it. I think that has happened to the Church in my country.”
Mr Dreher visited the Benedictine Monks in Norcia, Italy, several times in researching the book, and their monastery, founded originally by St Benedict, had a profound effect on him.
“I remember the first time I sat down to interview Fr Casian, the prior at the monastery,” he said. “I felt this overwhelming sense of serenity coming from him. This is a man who thinks deeply, who prays deeply and conveys a strong sense of authority. It was like talking to my father and that’s what a priest and a monk should be, a spiritual father.
“And I felt that multiplied with other monks I spoke to there who were under his authority. That’s when I felt there was something special about this particular monastery.”
After he visited, tragedy was to strike the monks and their historic home, when a series of earthquakes hit central Italy, the final one destroying the ancient Basilica of St Benedict.
“The most serious one happened on a Sunday morning and I stood in my own Church here in Louisiana praying for those monks and trying not to cry because I love them as my brothers in Christ and I really believe God has established that monastery to be a light to the world,” he said.
“And when I heard from them I really believed God would use them in an even more powerful way than I anticipated, and the monks understand that too.
“It’s quoted in the book, one of them saying: ‘We look at the ruins of the basilica as a symbol of the Church today in the West that we have to rebuild.’
Mr Dreher points out that it is ‘extraordinary’ the monks are alive for the rebuilding because they moved just outside the city to a safe space when the first quakes hit. “They did not abandon the city; they were still there to serve the people of the town, and because they’d been living by the rule of St Benedict for so long they carried within them the monastery, so it was not so difficult to re-establish it,” he said. “I find the whole thing to be a remarkable example for all of us Christians in the West.
“It’s such a tragedy, but as we known from our Faith, new life comes out of death and I think extraordinary new life will rise out of Norcia and they will be a brighter light to the world than they would have been otherwise.”
“The monks already had to maintain through the worst periods in the history of the Church and they did it through regular prayer and ordered living.”
That, to Mr Dreher, is the template.
“It’s not much of a slogan to attract people, but we Christians in the West are going to have to learn to suffer well and suffer with joy. And if we unite our suffering with God it’s going to have meaning and lead to the redemption of the world.”
Many may disagree with much of it. His prescription that renewal of the Faith requires withdrawal from the world can be contested. But his central diagnosis, that we are living in a post-Christian world and we need to find ways to resist that world or be absorbed by it, is one we know to be true. … The age of Christendom has passed in the West. What comes next, and how we reckon with it, is the challenge of our days.
“The challenge of our days.” Yes — and this Orthodox Christian is grateful for the opportunity to stand with Catholic brothers like Ian Dunn to face our common future with hope and confidence, despite it all.
I am really surprised and pleased by the interest in the book from Christians in Europe. It will be published in Czech next spring. I’m writing a big piece for the Spectator (UK) about the Ben Op, so maybe the book will find a British publisher. A Catholic journalist for Le Figaro in France is reading the book, and has requested an interview. In Italy, Il Foglio has given the book generous coverage. I find this encouraging because all of us Christians living in the West in these times are going to need each other in the days to come — and if that’s going to happen, we first have to get to know each other.
(N.B., Victor Morton, the Washington journalist and Right-Wing Film Geek, is a Scots-born Catholic.)