If you read The Benedict Option, you will recall my quoting Catholic theologian Christopher Roberts about gender and sexuality. That’s Chris above, in a photo taken last night in his kitchen in Philadelphia. He’s with Milan Zonca, a university professor from Prague, and the translator of my book into Czech. Milan is in Philly for an academic conference, and went over to the Robertses’ place last night to meet with parents from Martin Saints Classical High School, a new(ish) independent Catholic school in the Philly suburbs. Chris — a friend and former neighbor — sent out the following e-mail to Martin Saints parents; I quote it with his permission:
Last night Martin Saints teachers and board members met Milan to hear about the slightly older generation who grew up Catholic under communism, as well as Milan’s own stories about raising his children today in one of the most aggressively secular countries in Europe. We asked our visitor: why are you interested in the Benedict Option? What analogies do you see between communism, secularism, and life in America today?
To answer all those questions took an entire evening and several bottles of wine. Check out the links above to Rod’s blog, which will help explain what we discussed. But here’s one quick take-away that applies to us here and now in Philadelphia:
Daily life under communism meant a thousand small temptations to keep your head down, to avoid attention, and to deny one’s faith in small ways. Milan told us about the Benda family, Catholic dissidents who had an apartment down the street from the Czech secret police headquarters. Every day after school, the Benda parents would have to deprogram their children from the communist culture. They would read the classics to their children for hours each evening – Lord of the Rings was another favorite – reminding their children that there was another world beyond their daily lives, a world deeper and ultimately more real than their immediate communist context.
These days in America, we don’t worry about the secret police showing up in the night to take us away. But we too face small daily temptations to trim the sails of our faith, to fit in, to let the background secular culture dull our sensitivity to spiritual reality. We too need to read the classics and de-program, to remind ourselves that there is another world, deeper and more real than our immediate cultural context.
Which brings us to Lent. Lent invites us to ask: how do we need to de-program from our own secular culture? What habits have we slowly picked up that are anesthetizing us to spiritual reality? What do we need to give up – what habits do we need to break – or what good habits do we need to cultivate – so that we can be alert and alive to what is really real and important? For example, following the Benda family, what spiritual reading should we be doing in the evening to keep ourselves and our children focused on our true loyalties?
We gave our students copies of this article with 25 suggestions for things that children and teens can appropriately and fruitfully give up for Lent. We also recommend this article about one family’s approach to technology in the home.
It absolutely delights me to have played a part in Ben Op Christians meeting each other like this and forming networks of friendship and support. By the way, readers, if you live in the Philadelphia area, and are looking for a Ben Oppish school for your kids, check out the Martin Saints’ open house on March 25. It’s the last one the school is having before the fall semester. Why not go meet the people there, and see what they offer? Follow that link for information on how to contact the headmaster.