Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Putting Flesh on BenOp Bones

What would the BenOp look like in Catholic parish life?

Father Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest, says it’s time for the Benedict Option, and writes about what a Benedict Option parish would look like:

The Benedict Option requires a radical shift away from the easygoing, open-ended, cafeteria Catholicism prevalent in much of suburban America to an intentionally informed and aware Catholicism. All will be welcome, but they will be welcomed to join what will be more like an elite fighting force than a religiously themed country club.

If Dreher is right, then the Benedict Option will not be imposed from the hierarchy. Instead, it will emerge from below. Such a movement would be strongly traditional, while at the same time living out many of the principles of the Second Vatican Council.

Absolutely. I expect the hierarchy in most cases to have all the vision and backbone of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin. (That is most certainly not a compliment.) This is something that parish priests and sympathetic laity are going to have to do for themselves. More Father Dwight:

A “Benedict Option” would undermine clericalism in a positive and creative way. There would be natural renewal of worship, religious education and service based on the needs of the local community rather than top-down “good ideas” by diocesan bureaucrats.

What might a “Benedict Option” parish look like? The pastor and people would decide priorities based on the immediate needs of the parish members. As hostility grows from those outside the Church, relationships of trust would be developed within the family and parish. If an aggressive secular agenda is promoted in public schools, the parish school and religious-education program will become a main priority. As classical education disappears, the parish school will become a repository for the ancient learning. As such, a “Benedict Option” parish would see itself as countering, rather than accommodating, the surrounding culture. Such a community would be distinctive and clear in its purposes and principles — even odd. Members might be distrusted by those outside the community — including other Catholics who have compromised with the prevailing culture.

Is the Benedict Option the way of the future? I believe it is already here. Even now, we are seeing a separation evolving in the Catholic Church in the United States. Large numbers of Catholics are already more American than Catholic. They see no problem with divorced and remarried couples coming to Communion, and they accept same-sex “marriage” and want the Church to “get with the times” over many other issues.

Parishes go with their pastor’s guidance along the path of accommodating and accepting the current cultural trends.

Meanwhile, other pastors lead congregations that are uncompromising and clear in their Catholicism. No longer loyal to geographical parishes, Catholics are voting with their feet, and “Benedict Option” parishes are emerging — not aware that they are part of a growing movement.

Really and truly, read the whole thing. It’s excellent.

Along these lines, Deacon Michael Ward e-mails these helpful thoughts about what the BenOp would look like from a Catholic perspective:

Recovery of ascesis and rhythm in the Christian life is fundamental at this time both for the proper formation in holiness of the individual and the survival of the lived faith of the community linked to that which has has come down to us from the Apostles.

The particular purpose of this recovery of ascesis and rhythm is the formation of habits oriented to towards a life conformed to the Lord Jesus and shaped by the Gospel → Mt 5-7 as well as Ephesians 3-4 and the Letter of James.

Disciple of desires and the focus of the mind and heart are fundamental. Traditional “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity and obedience properly explored and adapted for lay life both married and single offer a framework for developing the disciple and focus necessary for such formation.

In the formation of habits the management and use of the time in daily life are critical.

Balance among the major formative experiences of daily life is essential → prayer, work, study, rest/leisure are all necessary to effectively shape habits of the mind and heart on an ongoing daily basis.

The Rule of St. Benedict offers a time tested and honored framework for structuring these  formative experiences of daily life so as to more effectively shaping such habits.

The Rule seeks to provide a practical balance time, activity and relationships necessary to develop the fine-grained personal habits necessary to live the evangelical counsels within the context of our daily lives.

Community is like the garden soil in which all of this can take root more efficiently and with greater power and love.

The basic community building block for those that are married would be within the family itself.

Parish life, and sub-networks of the life-minded therein, provide a natural focal point for this life, centered around the fulcrum of the community’s eucharistic liturgy and prayer.

The overall goal of the entire option is to provide a more fertile soil for faithful people to live out their baptismal call more fully, work out their salvation “in fear and trembling”, make progress along the path of the universal call to holiness (Lumen Gentium), strengthen bonds within the Body of Christ, and conforming our image and likeness to that of the Lord’s.

This effort is not narcissistic as the lives formed by these habits and disciples will by their nature be oriented “for others” (St. Ignatius) starting with hospitality and care for their neighbors and a greater awareness of the values and measures urgent for the flourishing of the broader community to live what is good, true and beautiful.

This vision forms the basis and reference points for the disciple’s participation in the social and political life of the broader community, state, and nation.

I love these. I’m getting a lot of e-mail this week about the BenOp, which indicates that people are getting excited about thinking this through. Let me hear from you about your vision. I would love to know what Evangelical and Orthodox versions of the BenOp would look like. One Protestant reader and leader in his church writes:

I just wanted to let you know that your writings about the Benedict Option have moved me deeply. Your thoughts, plus the guidance of the Spirit, led me to propose a youth discipleship class for the teenagers in our church to our Pastor — a proposal that he quickly endorsed.

A line that you had in a recent blog post “If they’ve heard anything from the Church, it’s something like, ‘Don’t do this because the Bible says not to’ — which is not enough in this time and place.” is exactly what we are trying to combat. It is almost word for word what a youngish (~25) member of our church told me a few weeks ago. She said that when she was growing up and would ask if she could do something that was verboten, her parents would tell her, “No, you can’t do that.” “Why?” “It’s against our religion.” No further explanation was given.

So we are putting together this class and starting it with hard questions. Why do you go to church? Would you go to church if your parents didn’t make you? Is God important to you? Why?

From there, it will lead into discussions about our doctrines, the importance of prayer, how to pray, how to read/study/meditate on the Bible, holiness, how to handle failures, etc. When we start discussing the things that the Lord hates, we aren’t just going to point at the Bible and say, “God says no, so don’t.” One of the questions we will keep bringing up is, “God said don’t do X or that he hates X. Why would God say that?” We want them to be able to put those admonitions into a larger framework.

Myself and the other leaders are trying to get these kids out of their comfort zone, get them talking and get them to think very deeply about these issues. As I told my Pastor, some of these kids will inevitably backslide. But at the very least, I want them to know what they are backsliding from.

Fantastic! My priest friend who is a campus minister — and a very successful one — says that he finds so often the students he pastors, kids who are alienated from or otherwise have rejected the Church, so often don’t even know what they are rejecting. He said it only takes a few sharp Socratic questions, offered in love, to make them realize how little they truly know about the faith, and how profoundly unexamined their premises about the Good are. The point, he said, was to offer them good reasons for the faith. Too many pastors and priests are so afraid of conflict and divisiveness that they never challenge and inform young people.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now