Here’s one in an occasional series of reasons for Benedict Option hope.
On my last day in Madrid in January, I went to lunch in a neighborhood cafe with five young men, whose ages ranged between 20 and 24. Ramon, one of their number, had reached out to me via e-mail when he heard I was coming to Spain. He said that he and his friends are young Catholics who are trying to do a sort of Benedict Option, and would like to meet me. The Catholic novelist Natalia Sanmartin acts as a kind of adviser to the group; it was she who put us in touch.
“They are an impressive group,” she said. “They are trying to educate themselves following John Senior’s reading program.”
Here is the Wikipedia entry on the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas that Prof. Senior helped run. Excerpt:
In the words of Dennis Quinn [one of the founders], the program sought to “teach the Great Books, the classics, from the Greeks up through the Romans and through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the modern times.” In addition to studying the great books, the students also got together for poetry memorization, singing folk songs, formal waltzing lessons, and stargazing, an activity the founders thought to be one of the greatest sources of wonder.
These young Catholic men who reached out to me are starving for this knowledge — so they’re feeding it to themselves. Ramon invited me to meet them for lunch. They’ve read The Benedict Option, and see what they’re trying to do as within its purview. He said that there are about 150 of them from around Spain, from different walks of life. What they have in common is that they are, in Ramon’s words, “Catholic, traditional, patriotic and young.”
So, we met over beer and tapas. I took notes, with the group’s permission. They have asked me not to use their last names, for personal reasons. They don’t yet have a name yet, or a website, because they are so new. Ramon says that he’ll be happy to be in touch with anyone who wants to make contact with him, through me (e-mail me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com). I’ll call them by a name suggested by the first line one of them spoke, with a big smile on his face, when we sat down at the table: “We are the Resistance.”
The Resistance formed because they were frustrated by not receiving adequate formation in the faith or culture from their schools and universities. They could see that there’s a massive crisis in the Church, in families, in Spain, and throughout the West. They wanted to read the classics, in part to prepare themselves to respond constructively to the crisis. What could they do? They’ve decided to come together to discern a common response, and what they are called to do.
“We wanted to be a group of friends, young people with common ideas, common vision of the world,” said Pablo.
They could see that there were a lot of people around Spain who agreed with them, but nobody really knew each other.
Said Ángel: “We put fire in the beacons, and Rohan, and the rest of the Middle Earth’s people, came to the war.”
They had their first meeting in May 2018. The members decided first thing needed to do is to get to know each other and developed bonds of friendship. Said one of the young men: “We are bonded because we are companions in battle.”
After the first meeting, they developed initiatives. Realizing that their education was “very poor,” they believed that they needed to be educated “to understand this time.” Said one: “Normal people our age have not studied things from classical times. We have never read Homer, for example. We can’t be serious about changing the world without having read Homer, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, and others.”
They started a reading course based on John Senior’s program (see the link above); Ramon’s aunt translated Senior’s work into Spanish for their use. They have had five sessions so far. “We knew that we needed to know these things to be ready for this battle,” said one of the men.
In addition to studying the Great Books, they are also teaching themselves traditional songs, dances, and other things. The Resistance’s membership includes students, lawyers, priests, soldiers, and others. Ramon said that they don’t all agree on what to do, but they do share the diagnosis of what has gone wrong.
Their diagnosis is more or less as follows.
“We are not pessimistic, but realistic. The diagnosis is dark, but we are all mature Catholics, we have reached a certain age, we know our catechism. We know the Lord has already won. The diagnosis might be dark, but the battle is already won. The question is, are you going to be part of winning side? The Lord said the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, but he didn’t say the gates of hell would not prevail against Madrid, or in your own family, or in you.”
There is, Ramon said, a “battle for Spain” — for national cohesion and Spanish identity. Hispanidad — Spanish identity — cannot be understood apart from the Catholic faith. To be Spanish is to be Catholic: this, they believe, is a historical fact. Even atheists in Spain are shaped by this reality. They do not call themselves integralists — the young men laughed openly at the idea of Catholic bishops having power — but they believe that the Church’s teachings should be at the heart of Spanish law.
Ramon said that the Left has dominated education in Spain since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, and it has taught modern Spaniards to hate their country ant its history. Said Ramon:
The real enemies of Spain are not communists, but liberals. Liberalism is not something you can fight out front, like communism. It creeps from beneath. It creates something anti-Hispanic.
Spain has turned into a liberal country: a country that doesn’t have roots. America doesn’t have roots – it was an Enlightenment nation. Liberalism is the political, moral, and economic expression of nominalism [the medieval philosophical doctrine that says there is no inherent meaning in matter]
What do roots do for you? They tie you to a place and make you act in a certain way. When you cut those roots, you can do whatever you want. That’s what happened to Spain. We see that Spain is crumbling because people have been uprooted, and don’t know who Spain is. You can’t love what you don’t know? … In Spain today, there’s a thin veneer of Catholicism, all cultural. How can we battle if we don’t really believe? How can we defend the Church if we have turned our backs to God? Even though our feet may still be Catholic, our hearts aren’t.
The second battlefront is a fight for the West. The decline of the West is a fact, and it’s a fact that emerges from its abandonment of Christianity. Ramon said that the Resistance does not believe that clerics should have political power (“That’s what they do in Iran”), but rather that in a good society, all things must be spiritually connected, and oriented to serving God.
The third battlefront, according to the Resistance, is a battle for human nature. There is an “anthropological attack” on the meaning of the human person. What C.S. Lewis called “the abolition of man” is upon us. Ramon shared with me a speech he gave last year, at the inception of the group. He said in it:
We are created in the image and likeness of God, and as such our nature refers us to Him. The battle begins, therefore, against human nature. Ideologies, naturalisms, materialisms, sexual revolutions… Everything is one assault after another on the very concept of the human, to deny the obvious: our transcendence, the immortality of our souls, our need for God, our masculine-female complementarity…
It denies man, the human being, what he is. Femininity and masculinity are destroyed, the species is sterilized, our natural environment of development, the family, is destroyed. Marriage is ferociously destroyed, from all spheres, and from all possible angles: procreation, indissolubility, fidelity… The family is attacked as the image that is of the Trinity, and there we find the reason for so much ferocity in the attack.
“We used to be the defender of all this,” Ramon said. “The church is mediocre. The church was the first to betray the true Spanish spirit. … The Church has been unfaithful to its mission many times. Who abandoned the Cristeros? The Church. We know the Church is made of men, and they betray Christ constantly. We are men, and we betray Christ constantly. We have a lot of history of the betrayal of clerics. We don’t care now.”
We don’t care now. Those words struck me like a gong. These young men struck me as pious and sincere Catholics who, because of their piety and sincerity, don’t really care what their bishops think of them.
Ramon said that so few Spanish Catholics understand how radically things have changed. Modernism affects everyone. “How are we going to show the world that Christianity is salvation when everything about us is modern?” he said. Far too many Christians today think of the faith as a middle-class self-help project, not a call to self-sacrifice and spiritual warfare.
Ezekiel asks, who will defend the wall, who will be the soldier who stands in the gap. For most of history, Christians knew who the enemies were. What happens when Christians no longer see the wall, and don’t know where the enemies are? That’s the church today.
The usual thing is when you can’t see the wall, you look for your captain – when you see the captain, he will defend the wall, and you will rally to him.
Let’s look at the captains. In Madrid, the cardinal said last year we should support a feminist march because the Virgin Mary would have supported it.
(Despite the cardinal archbishop’s support for the feminist demonstration, marchers attacked and sprayed graffiti on churches.)
Ramon told me that “the deeper battle is the one people can’t see.” The battle for authority, he says, is lost. Though all the young men I spoke with are strongly Catholic, they have given up expecting their bishops to do anything about the crisis. They feel like spiritual orphans.
“We have no shepherds right now,” he said. “What would a soldier do if he can’t see the captain? He would be a guerrilla. He would assemble all those who fight for the flag, even if they’re under different uniforms. [For us, it’s] the Cross, and Spain, and Tradition.”
UPDATE: Ramon e-mails to emphasize that he and his friends are faithful Catholics who believe the Church is holy. It’s only that they have no faith in the competence of the current generation of hierarchical leadership. That is not the same thing as disbelieving in the authority of the hierarchy itself. As Catholics, they accept the legitimacy of the hierarchy … but think the current hierarchy is a mess.
In the speech he gave earlier, Ramon said:
Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church. He did not promise anything, however, about our episcopal conferences, our dioceses, our parishes or movements. Our families, our souls, are not safe from being swallowed up in this battle: either we stand up against evil, or we stand up to fight, or nothing will prevent us from being one more in the long list of well-meaning people paving the way to hell.
Hard times await us, and much unity is needed to deal with them. Our various initiatives work, you may say, at a basic level, but they will achieve nothing if they are kept isolated, isolated, and so often at odds with similar associations or movements. We are not going to find a captain among the shepherds, so the time has come to unite to protect all that we consider essential. This unity must not be artificial, but personal: do not doubt that we are in a battle, in which there are sides, and this initiative consists precisely in consolidating the side of Christ, his Spanish youth, to allow us to counterattack.
“There is a silent revolution,” Ramon told me over lunch. “In a lot of the Catholic youth, there is a reaction to the modern world that we are clearly seeing. All the traditionalist Catholic priests are young. All the people who go to the Latin mass are young. When one liberates himself from the thought that it’s important to have the world affirm you, that middle-class conformity matters, then you can do these kinds of things.”
Interestingly, the men say that no party speaks for them politically. They admire some things that Gen. Francisco Franco did, but are critical of other things. Mostly, they believe that party politics are an artificial way of dealing with the most serious problems affecting their country. Said Ramon, “We have hope in the community we are creating.”
Said Javier, another of the group at the table: “We are a group of losers who are doing something. If a group of losers like us can do something, anybody can.”
Diego, a third group member, said that unlike in the US, in Spain, there is no room at all for faithful Catholics to act meaningfully in the political system. He went on:
“Lighting a candle. It doesn’t have to be big. As dark as everything is around, a little candle can shed a lot of light. They don’t have to try to be big from the beginning. … This is not about electoral politics. This is about deep roots. This is about the restoration of a vision. This cannot be done by winning elections. Society is in such a shape that if you have won an election, then you have probably done something wrong. … Try first restoring the culture and society, then win elections.”
Fire in the beacons, and Rohan rose for war. Who could have imagined that the words of John Senior, a Midwestern Catholic professor who wrote about the restoration of Christian culture, would resonate in the hearts and minds of young Catholics in Spain twenty years after his death. Don’t give up hope! You never know what tomorrow will bring … and who you will meet along the way.
UPDATE: Mark VA comments:
I’ve been teaching a pre-Confirmation class at my FSSP parish for the past 12 or so years (New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2). It runs on a two year cycle, with about 60 total hours of classroom instruction. Homework is included as additional study time;
Over this time, I receive a steady trickle of students from other Catholic Churches, whose parents are alarmed at the vacuity of the instruction they receive at their parish (just got another inquiry this past Friday);
I informally test this with these students, which without fail confirms the parents’ concerns. Not just religious knowledge, but basic historical facts are missing. For example, students have difficulty chronologically placing Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Many don’t know who they are, they have only vaguely heard the names, and that Jesus is somehow connected with God. Concepts of Transcendence, Incarnation, Transubstantiation, Trinity, Resurrection, etc. are almost entirely missing – for the most part, it’s gibberish to them. The traditionalist students are a little better – emphasis on little. So this is the generation that will take on Marxism?
To rebuild we need serious and sustained school instruction – not Sunday school only, but Monday to Friday classroom instruction, in all classical subjects, rigorously and creatively taught, school year after school year. We will not half-ass our way out of this disaster.