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Withdrawal For The Sake Of Renewal

Excerpt from my NRO interview with my old friend and former boss Kathryn Jean Lopez:

LOPEZ: Is the Benedict Option really withdrawal, or is it renewal?

DREHER: It’s both. It is withdrawal for the sake of renewal. My book is heavily influenced by a 2004 essay in First Things written by the early-church historian Robert Louis Wilken. He said we in the West were losing our cultural memory of Christianity. Because of this, he said, there is nothing more important for Christians today than the church telling itself its own story, and nurturing its inner life. His point is not that we shouldn’t evangelize, but that we are forgetting what Christianity means. We cannot give the world what we do not have. Therefore, we have to withdraw in meaningful ways for the sake of contemplation and formation — this, so we can truly bring the light of Christ to the world. When I started writing the book, I asked my friend Michael Hanby, a philosopher at Catholic University of America, for his advice. He said, “Ask yourself: ‘What would Karol Wojtyla do?’” I didn’t understand what he was getting at. He said that when the Nazis invaded Poland, they sought to crush the Polish nation by erasing its memory of what it meant to be Polish, and what it meant to be Catholic. The future Pope St. John Paul II and his circle realized that the most important form of resistance they could offer was to keep that cultural memory alive. They wrote and performed plays about the faith, and about patriotism. They did this under fear of death. If the Gestapo had found them, they would have imprisoned them all, and maybe killed them. But culture was that important to the survival of the nation, and those Poles risked everything to keep the story alive. We don’t face anything that severe, obviously, but as Wilken says, we are losing our cultural memory all the same. The hopeful thing is that the future is not fated. There are things we can do, in our own families, parishes, and schools.

LOPEZ: Can every Christian really be called to be St. Benedict?

DREHER: No, but every Christian is called to be a saint. God had a special historical mission for Benedict of Nursia. I believe God has a mission for each of us, and the standard of holiness is for all of us. As the French Catholic novelist Leon Bloy once wrote, the only true tragedy in life is not to have become a saint. Few of us are called to be monks or nuns, but all of us are called to holiness. St. Benedict and his followers can help us meet that standard in our own vocations. Benedictine spirituality is not for spiritual superheroes. It is very practical, very much geared to everyday life. He is a saint for our time and place, just as he was for the sixth century. I hope that my book helps all Christians — Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike — find their way through the darkness, to Christ.

Here’s something neat: As you know, I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. The publisher of The Benedict Option, Sentinel, told me a while ago that they planned to publish the book on March 14. I thanked them for this, and asked them how they knew. “Know what?” they said. “That March 14 is St. Benedict’s feast day on the Orthodox calendar,” I said. They had no idea! It was just a coincidence. Well, I don’t believe in coincidences. I like to think that the saint himself — who is my patron saint, by the way — is praying for this book’s success.

Read the whole thing.

Thanks everybody for your good wishes on today, the launch day for The Benedict Option. Whether you expect to like the book or not, the claims it makes and the arguments it puts forth are crucial to 21st century Christianity in the West. I hope you’ll read it for yourself and make your own decision.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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