By Father John P. Cush
ROD DREHER’S BOOK, “The Benedict Option” (2016) has been the source of much discussion in both the Catholic and secular press. Dreher, a conservative columnist, is a man of faith. He was raised Protestant, then converted to Catholicism, and in 2006, after the clerical sexual abuse scandal in the U.S., decided to convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.
In this book, Dreher outlines the sides in the so-called “culture wars” in the U.S., and his verdict is grim: those who follow traditional Christianity in America have lost. In his opinion, most especially since the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S., our nation has become so mired in the muck of relativism that the only solution – if traditional Christianity wishes to stay alive – is to invoke the “Benedict Option.”
What does the “Benedict Option” mean? The term is taken from a line in a book titled “After Virtue” by one of the 20th century’s major philosophers – and a convert to Catholicism – Alasdair MacIntyre. The philosopher writes the following:
“If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.”
So, those who are proponents of the “Benedict Option” believe that, in order for Christianity to survive in a completely secular age, Christians who are serious about their faith need to break away from society, come together in small groups and practice their faith in a way that is ascetic and doctrinally true to sacred Scripture and sacred tradition. St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine monks, and in many ways, the man who saved Western culture and civilization in the Dark Ages, needs to be a model for each individual Christian, in his or her own family and in his or her own particular vocation.
There is much that could be commended about “The Benedict Option.” But there is also much about it that leaves just as many questions as it does answers. However, the basic desire expressed in the text for communion and for community is key. The Christian is called to be in the world and not of the world, but the truth of the matter is that the Christian is called to be in the world with other Christians, living in communion with them, and then and only then, can we transform the world.
Today’s celebration of Trinity Sunday reminds us of the truth of the matter. We, as human beings, are called to communion. We need communion with each other because the God in whose image and likeness we are created is, in Himself, a communion of love and knowledge. In the Most Blessed Trinity, we see how we are called to live and to love as Christians in the world.
From all eternity, God exists as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. From all eternity, God the Father looks at God the Son and loves and knows Him with such incredible, intense love and knowledge. This is reciprocated by the loving and knowing gaze of the Son to the Father from all eternity. From this incredible, mutual, intense love from all eternity comes the Holy Spirit, the bond of love and knowledge that exists between the Father and Son. It is out of this overwhelming love that exists in the Triune God – this communion of life and love that is so intense – that all of created reality exists. We, as human beings, in our very nature mirror that inner life of the Triune God. In no greater way is that expressed than when we strive to live lives of communion with one another.
Listen to the words of the epistle offered today from St. Paul to the Corinthians. The Apostle exhorts us to love one another, to greet each other with a holy kiss, in other words, to live a life of harmony. And how does he end this passage? With nothing less than the words offered as the first option for the greeting in the introductory rites of the Mass: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
The inner life of God in the Most Blessed Trinity offers to us the model of how we are to live as Christians: namely, in the world, yet not of the world, yes, but also not apart from one another. We all called to be leaven in the world, to transform the world, by our presence and by the daily living of the Gospel.
St. Josemaria Escriva writes: “So when we strive to sanctify our specific profession, our particular family situation, and our other daily duties, we are not sanctifying simply an isolated thread, but the whole social fabric. This sanctifying effectiveness makes Christians a powerful leaven for restoring order to the world, so that it may better reflect the love with which it was created. When charity is present in any human activity, there is less room for selfishness, the principal factor of disorder in the human heart and in our relationships with one another and with God’s creation.”
The answer to how to live as an authentic Christian in the world today is not just found in the “Benedict Option.” It is found when we as Christians can live our lives in communion with our brothers and sisters in the world.
Readings for the Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity
Exodus 34: 4B-6, 8-9
Daniel 3: 52, 53, 54, 55, 56
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
John 3: 16-18
Father Cush, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, serves as academic dean of the Pontifical North American College, and as an assistant professor of theology and U.S. Catholic Church history.