This blog is focusing a lot these days on the sexual corruption among the Catholic hierarchy. I do so because it’s an extremely important story. Though I am no longer a Catholic, I believe there is no single institution in the West more important to the survival of Christianity in this civilization than the Roman Catholic Church. I might be wrong about that, and in any case there is an argument to be had about the claim. Nevertheless, I truly don’t believe that any serious Christian, or any serious lover of Western civilization, can afford to be indifferent to the crisis overtaking the Roman church. And, if I can be personal here, though I left it in 2006 broken-hearted, I genuinely love the Roman church, and grieve over what it’s suffering.
We should take great care, though, not to fall into the sort of clericalism that fogs the brains of so many Catholic bishops, and conclude that the Church is essentially its clergy. There are so many ordinary Catholics who do good work, and who live holy lives, and whose mark on this world will endure long after the lecherous pomps of corrupt cardinals and their catamites fade into history.
I’m thinking this morning about Kamila Bendova, the widow of the great Czech dissident Vaclav Benda. She lives in their apartment in Prague, and presides over a large family of children and grandchildren. She too was a dissident. She kept the family together when the communists put her husband in prison. When Vaclav was tempted by an offer to accept exile in exchange for liberty, she bucked him up, and told him that the things they were fighting for were worth suffering for too.
I wrote in The Benedict Option about Vaclav Benda’s ideas and witness, and what we contemporary Christians can learn from them. When I went to the Czech Republic earlier this year, I visited Kamila, who, like her late husband, is a mathematician, and some of her adult children and grandchildren earlier this year, and wrote about it in “My Night At Vaclav Benda’s”. Being there in that apartment that night was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was there that men and women who had been brutally interrogated by the secret police came to find comfort. It was there that she and her husband raised a family of faithful Catholics in the midst of anti-Christian tyranny. I do not exaggerate when I say that it is holy ground.
My friend Terry Mattingly was in Prague recently, and spent an evening with Kamila and some of her adult children. He writes about it in his column. Excerpts:
No matter what was happening outside their apartment walls, Kamila Bendova pulled her six children together every day and read to them for two hours or more.
It didn’t matter if the Communists had imprisoned her husband — the late Vaclav Benda, a leading Czech dissident and Catholic intellectual. It didn’t matter that state officials had bugged their flat near the medieval heart of the city. It didn’t matter if a friend showed up after being tortured at the KGB facility a block away.
The Benda family faithfully observed the rites that defined their lives inside their second-floor apartment, a site the Czech Republic has marked with a memorial plaque at sidewalk level. Every day, they prayed together, studied together and found ways to enjoy themselves — while doing everything they could to show others there was more to life than the rules of a paranoid police state.
You see? They lived the Benedict Option. They did not surrender to the culture, but labored faithfully to create a habitus, a domestic church, where a love for God and for the truth could be passed on to their children, despite the enmity of the world. More:
It’s crucial to understand that most Czechs, during the Communist era, “didn’t really believe what the state officials were saying. But they were willing to fake it,” [son Filip Benda] said. “The most important question is always the same: Who will take a stand and tell the truth?”
Traditional families now face threats that are harder to identify than those of the Communist era, said Kamila Bendova. Warning children about the secret police is one thing. In a way, it may be harder for today’s parents to convince their children to be truly countercultural in an age of social-media narcissism, gender confusion, online pornography and credit-card materialism.
Someone has to teach children to distinguish between lies and the truth, she said. Parents still need to pray with their children, read to them and show them what it means to live a faithful life. As in the Communist era, they may not be able to count on church leaders to “speak out on dangerous subjects,” she said.
Who will tell the truth? Who will live the truth? Who will do the hard work of reading to the children night after night, of disciplining themselves spiritually to suffer for the faith, of not depending on church leaders to sort themselves out?
The Czech Republic is today one of the world’s most atheistic countries. But the Benda family persists in its Catholic faith. This family is heroic. I mean that literally. They owe a lot to their late father, but they owe just as much, if not more, to their faithful mother.
Catholic readers, if contemplating the corruption of the hierarchy drives you to despair, think of Kamila Benda. She too is the church. And because she too is the church, and so are her faithful children and grandchildren, there is tangible reason to hope.
UPDATE: Terry sends this photo he took of Dr. Bendova. Note the crucifix. The faith is everything to these people: