The Mirror of the Benedict Option

The Josias

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017).

One of the great sorrows that I encounter as a priest is the sorrow of parents whose children have abandoned the Faith. Their sorrow can be more bitter even than the sorrows of those parents who suffer the fata aspera of having to bury their children. To have given the gift of life, only to see that gift taken too soon, and to be able to give only the “unavailing gift” of funeral flowers, is a bitter fate indeed. But for those who have come to believe that true life is the eternal life of Christ, it is still more bitter to have brought a child to the waters of Baptism, hoping for that child to receive a share in the inheritance of infinite bliss, only to see that child trade the infinite…

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12 thoughts on “The Mirror of the Benedict Option

  1. If any event on a grand scale will come along, it will be much, much simpler than these exertions; the very self-conscious and extremely self-important authors you quote strain themselves, do theirs utmost, but these are only strainings.
    The Benedictine stream itself didn’t begin because 6th century ideologues were petitioning for it.
    The very idea that, from all the centuries, the 6th is the one that resembles the most our own’s seems to me debatable.
    What people need are grace, goodness, patience.

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  2. Today’s ideological wrestlers seem to fancy that S. Benedict went against his times in an absolute and self-conscious way; I believe he didn’t, and his action has been largely helped by what he had found in his own time and world (both, dissimilar to ours). This very idea of a social engineering attempted by conceited bystanders showing off as gurus was unknown to the 5th century people. Perhaps many didn’t recognize Jesus because they were waiting for Elijah. Otherwise, the ‘proposal’ is so vague (‘doubtless very different’), and so relying on what someone thinks he knows about S. Benedict and his actions, that the saint’s name could be as well replaced with one from lot of other names, to a similar effect. The very nature of Macintyre’s waiting makes him resemble more those who waited for Godot.
    The offspring of the medieval culture should be understood in a simplistic way, or an overly idealized one, and that culture wasn’t a monolith over centuries.

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  3. Also, the tiniest knowledge about the Italian society of the late ‘40s, of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, about the Italian political life and social life (and also about today’s social life in some regions of Italy), about what happened there, how people felt and behave, would make one doubt that the solution for the catholic politicians was to … ‘adopt an explicitly anti-liberal political principle’! Good luck with that stance; fortunately, some social-democrats were less prone to role-playing than … ‘Petrus Hispanus’ (no less). Such phraseology is very telling for the delusional rants of armchair ideology, when one is ‘critical of technology’ and eager to share with the world his newest selfie; this is such hypocrisy.

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  4. Dear Father Edmund!

    Many thanks for your wonderful reflection on the Benedict Option! In particular I appreciated the personal anecdotes to underscore your perspective. It is not my intention to engage in cheap gossip but still I am wondering: What do you make of the path Father Reto Nay has taken since he was a priest in Gaming? How is it possible that someone so intelligent and full of faith can end up so isolated and alone? I do not know him personally but followed his steps through the media from afar. It seems that he has had a falling out in every place he went (first at the ITI, then at kath.net and subsequently in his Swiss parish).

    I guess that this also has some bearing on the Benedict Option given that tight knit communities are in danger of being founded or taken over by men with very strong personalities. There are men (they are almost always maless with a very rigid take on the faitn) personally known to me that have undergone similar developments in their lifes. Is there a lesson to be learned on human nature and its association with faith? Your perspective on this issue would be greatly appreciated, thank you very much for your apostolate!

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    • Well, you raise an interesting general issue about strong personalities. Certainly there are dangers there. But falling out with various groups is not necessarily a person’s own fault. There have been saints who ended up isolated and alone after being excluded from communities that they themselves founded.

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  5. “There have been saints who ended up isolated and alone after being excluded from communities that they themselves founded.”

    There are certainly instances of such phenomena. But one should not generalize these lessons. Few people would consider the founders of the Legionnaries of Christ or of the Community of the Beatitudes as “saints” in a colloquial sense. One can also assume that if someone has a falling out wherever he goes, then the fault probably lies with the person and not the different communities. But the issue is certainly a complex one and each case needs to be evaluated separately.

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  6. “CL has nevertheless a fundamentally optimistic attitude towards engagement with that culture.”

    That’s simplistic. In any case, engagement is always with people, not with “cultures”. Also, De Gasperi was no social democrat. Alessandro Manzoni is mispelled. I never met anybody in CL who obsessed about De Lubac’s theology of grace. I don’t think I have been coopted by liberalism, thank you very much. And good luck with the restoration of the monarchy.

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    • Thanks for catching the misspelling. I’m interested in how you would classify De Gasperi, if not as a Christian Social Democrat. Here in Austria he is considered one of the founders of post-war Christian Social Democracy. I congratulate you on not being coopted by liberalism! The questions of grace and of optimism, which I think are intimately linked, would indeed require a deeper treatment, so I accept your description of my description as “simplistic”. I think, however, that rightly understood, what I said is true. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of this paper of mine: https://sancrucensis.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/integralism/ I go into the question of grace a little more there (though without reference to CL). In conclusion, I want to emphasize again that I love CL and owe very much to the joyful witness to the Gospel that I have received from many of its members.

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      • Historically, European social democracy was based on two philosophical sources: a) Kantian morality, and, b) attempts at positivistic-inspired reforms of Marxism. Neither of those applied to De Gasperi, who was very much inspired by the Catholic culture of the late 19th century, especially the teaching of Leo XIII, and before that the Catholic “liberalism” (scare quotes are necessary) of Antonio Rosmini. Austrians may well call that “social democracy” inasmuch it did have social concerns and it was open to democracy, but that does not make it Social Democracy in the historically meaningful sense of those words, which refer to a precise political movement with completely different philosophical underpinnings.

        As for “nature and grace”, Giussani and whomever reads him carefully would entirely agree with your assertion “Nevertheless, the natural desire to attain to God is really a desire to attain to God, and thus the desire given by grace really perfects, elevates, and completes that desire by revealing both more about Who God is, and by revealing an unspeakably perfect and beatifying mode of attaining to Him; it does not add another, independent desire.” I am suspicious of your claim that De Lubac simply holds that “the natural desire is a desire for the beatific vision” but since I read him over twenty years ago, I will not try to argue that point. I can say with certainty that Giussani did not, and that therefore the claim that people in CL are somehow “obsessed” with such identification is indefensible not only in practice (since almost nobody of them would have thought this point through) but also in principle.

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        • I didn’t actually use the word “obsessed,” I wrote of “the enthusiasm that one finds within the movement…” Clearly, I was working off an imperfect induction. I was thinking of one particular CL theologian who has defended de Lubac on that point: namely my father, Michael Waldstein. But, in any case, I am glad that Msgr. Giussani would “entirely agree” with my attempted formulation of a third way between de Lubac and neo-Cajetanians such as Steven Long.

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          • I apologize: “enthusiasm.” I’ll see you father in a few weeks, I’ll let him know that you regard him as an official interpreter of CL theology.

            If I may state the obvious, a good way not to start idle disputes is by always keeping in mind the experiential and historical context that motivates authors to emphasize certain aspects and not others. Because if we don’t, it is usually very easy to interpret the texts as neglecting or negating other aspects which actually the author had no intention to neglect or negate. I think De Lubac was actually astute enough not to make the crude identification you attribute to him, except that he was not talking to you, he was talking to a completely different set of people. But, as I said, I read the relevant texts a quarter of a century ago, and so I cannot corroborate my suspicion.

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