Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Family Option versus Benedict Option

Diane mentioned a word-coupling oft-heard in circles of serious Catholics, Domestic Church, and something sort or half-clicked in my head. Then I see the phrase again in this piece by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in reaction to the SSM ruling:

We have perhaps not done enough to teach the beauty of marriage and the purpose and inherent design of family life, but the Church is here to accompany couples as they make the courageous choice to follow this life-giving vocation. We will pray with them and will advocate for them. It is a good time to recommit ourselves — all of us whether clergy or lay — to cherishing marriage and the children of each union as a joy, a place of love and a path to virtue and holiness. If you do not know the deep beauty of the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life, I urge you to make a little time to read and ask questions. Many of the great saints have spoken about the family as the domestic church, the dignity of every person, the sacrament of marriage as a path to holiness, the complete gift of self, the blessedness of fruitful marriage and other topics worthy of contemplation and pursuit.

...and this time it's kind of like V8 head-slap moment. Everything that people want from the so-called Benedict Option is already available to the Domestic Church which is the Catholic Family. Or Christian Family, if you wish. For example, what goes on at our house? Well... Morning Offering, grace before meals, instruction of the ignorant, peace-making, morality 101, political/ethical discussions with those old enough, spiritual reading, Rosary, Angelus (sometimes in Latin), Spiritual Communions, examination of conscience, spiritual reading, Lectio Divina, doing chores and projects, regular meals, obeying rules, consequences for not obeying rules, nighttime prayers where we mention all our friends by name, etc.

What doesn't go on at our house? Network television, excessive use of entertainment media and gaming, pornography, acceptance of sin as OK or "normal", questionable publications, etc. All that secularism stuff.

So no rocket science, no brain surgery, no Benedict Option required to let the good stuff in and keep the bad stuff out.

My wife and kids and I are not perfect, nor do we claim to be. We don't always say the Rosary like we should every day, we don't always remember we're children of God and sometimes we lose our temper (ha! he wrote "we"...) or give in to arguing, bickering, fighting, etc. But that's the Church, that's the Domestic Church, and that's every group of human trying to get along since Adam and Eve. If I was doing everything I could be doing 100%, or even 90%, and there was evidence that something was still missing, maybe I'd buy a quart or two of Benedict Option to throw in the tank. (If it existed.)

So here's the question: why would any serious Christian run after a nebulous and undefined concept like "the Benedict Option" which has no authoritative structure, no discernible form, and no practical precedent in history other than failed communes headed by someone possessing a certain level of nuttiness? The natural alternative is the Family Option, or the Domestic Church, a title for the Christian Family with roots going back to the beginning of Christianity. Every time I hear someone defending the Benedict Option by defining it as a number of holy and good things of which I heartily approve I think they are actually describing a really good example of a Christian Family, a Domestic Church, and not really anything which Rod Dreher & company have in mind for the yet-to-be-defined Benedict Option.

But wouldn't the Benedict Option be helpful to families trying to live up to this ideal? Again, not knowing what the Benedict Option is, we have no idea. All I know is that the Church supports me leading my family and transmitting the faith to them, and so do all our Christian friends and conservative Jewish friends. Even the nominal Catholic people I know respect the fact that I have six kids and am more religious than they are. As for resources, there are all kinds of groups out there like Knights of Columbus, Opus Dei, Spiritual Direction and the USCCB giving out stuff for free.

Did you know you can get the Summa for free on Kindle?

Did you know some creative Catholic people started a website called Domestic-Church.com?

I think we know enough about the what the Benedict Option supposedly is to say that either it is way too restrictive and one-size-fits-all, or if it isn't, then we already have it in the Domestic Church, the Christian Family. Jared Staudt, an actual Benedictine Oblate who I recently mentioned, has his own take on what the Benedict Option might be:

I would propose that the Benedict Option is something simple, which anyone can live, whether they have withdrawn to an enclave or not.... The Benedict Option is really quite simple: it is living the Christian life in a coherent, simple, and prayer centered way in the modern world.

But shouldn't children be sheltered from the world at least until a certain age? Most definitely! That's why God invented the Christian Family. a place where the goal isn't to push them through into adulthood like a factory, but rather to form them into the Christian adults they are meant to be. If you want to live close to a monastery, more power to you. But know that you can probably do more than you are doing right now without living near a monastery. Are you going to Mass every day? Or do you want a personal monk to bring you the Holy Eucharist in your compound so you don't have to get out of your slippers?

In closing, I think that this Benedict Option issue demarcates two ways of thinking about how to approach the challenges of the modern world from a Catholic perspective. I noticed this for some time, ever since I heard people like Rod Dreher speaking favorably of the title of Hillary Clinton's famous ghost-written tome, It Takes A Village. I remembered years before, circa 2000, hearing a priest say something like the following in a wedding homily:

There are a lot of books I'd like to read still in my life, and there is a book which, if it is on the list at all, is fairly close to the bottom. The name of that book is something like "It takes a village to raise a child." [snickers from the congregation] Because truthfully, it doesn't take a village to raise a child. All it takes to do that is a Mother and a Father.

I don't know what we should call these two approaches or how they can be categorized. What I do know is that if we get to do a vacation this summer with our seventh child due to arrive within weeks, we are all going. Together. Yes, we always take the Domestic Church on the road, man.


  1. Well said. No edgy social media rebranding of age-old tradition, like the newest brand of bottled water with an exotic, evocative, made up name, is needed.

    "The Benedict Option" is only a movie pitch term, like "The Andromeda Strain" or any Robert Ludlum title.

    1. Thanks, Keith. Lol to R. Ludlum remark.

      I was just re-reading what "Commenter Kate" said in NCRegister. Along the same lines.

  2. This is a post I'd really like to see published as a comment on Rod's blog. Truly. Would you consider it, or does he just automatically delete anything you submit? This piece is substantial and a very specific response to BenOp claims, such as they are. It's worthy of discussion. And it's not even very sarcastic. There's no good reason for Rod to delete it, other than his own prejudice against you as a commenter, if that's the case.

    1. IMHO, it would be deleted so fast you'd hardly even see its dust.

    2. And yes, Rod *is* that petty and thin-skinned.

    3. A few hardy souls have already pointed out that once he took "flee to the hills" off the BO table, every chimerical incarnation of the Benedict Option he can come up with already exists in the Church. Even if one wanted to go all monastic there's already the lay Third Orders.

      He'd just ignore the comment, much like he ignores what MacIntyre wrote between the hyphens: "We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

    4. Well, one of the reasons I do all this on my own blog is that Dreher has pretty much a blanket ban on anything I try to post. This is amusing to me at this point, and I think it shows more that he fears my arguments than anything else.

      Think about it. If I was a lame, hater troll without anything more to say than the equivalent of "Rod smells like poop" then the best thing he could do is leave my comments alone to condemn me as a loser who had no real arguments. The fact that he deletes my stuff shows more than anything that there is some cogency there that he is too lazy to answer.

      As for some people realizing all these paths for making the church more holy already exist, I think he can dismiss them in his mind as those people who whistle past the graveyard on the other side of the "it takes a village" argument. He really sees the necessity of another concocted layer between the Church and the Domestic Church. It is possible that he succumbs to something a friend use to call extrinsicism, but he didn't mean it in the classic sense. He used it to describe people who worry more about their kids listening to rock and roll than whether or not they are learning to practice the virtues, for example. The world and the devil are bad, to be sure. But... what about that old flesh? That's where most people struggle. Or don't....

      The best way I have to make the Church better is to be better myself and encourage others to be better using the means I outlined in this post. I started posting this last night; then I thought "I had better go do a family Rosary or I am like the biggest hypocrite alive." (I might be anyway, lol.)

  3. route66news says:
    June 30, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Rod, I did not mean to “diss” the Benedict Option. I don’t understand it because it has not been well-defined yet, as far as I can tell — please correct me if I’m wrong.

    And there we have it. Mr. Eich — who has been repeatedly cited on this website — inadvertently has stumbled onto the big problem that is the Benedict Option. It’s definition keeps shifting on what it is and isn’t, depending on the day and Rod’s mood(s).

    You’ve got a big problem selling an idea when you can’t even explain what it is in a clear, concise sentence.

    1. Hey, maybe he just needs a really, really tall building for his elevator speech.

    2. "The Benedict Option" is Rod's term for the rising movement for a new Middle Age, a spiritual revolution in a time of spiritual and cultural darkness. Didn't you know?

    3. While Dreher celebrates himself and his BO in his mind and among his Internet fans, we in turn can study him as an exemplary sociopathology of the modern, Internet Age - the farthest thing from a restorative, Middle Age person of community imaginable.

      Creatures no longer rooted in family or in real life, organic community relationships, instead, they have autonomously replaced those prior, limiting forms with new social spheres designed to their tastes out of the elements they choose and reject from the Internet. The sort of self-selected and self-validated reality which results from such autonomous selecting and banning/shunning results in the sort of life within a bubble mirrored on the inside that Dreher displays for us: everything seems naturally about him, everyone (he can still detect) appears to agree with him, as his thoughts occur, rising movements just naturally seem to follow them as well.

      Ecce homo cyber

    4. Hah. Never mind that the Middle Ages were a sprawling, messy, complicated period -- and a fluid, changing, evolving one, with incredible cultural diversity across Western and Eastern Europe. There is enough fodder there for countless legions of quarreling medievalists...but Rod thinks he's got the medieval "spirit" nailed? OK, whatever.

    5. This Middle Ages thing is the perfect example of how Dreher can seemingly wade into something which makes him look completely ridiculous and barely anyone will call him on it. Maybe other commentators are just embarrassed by it and they go all poker face.

    6. You can tell from the drastically reduced number of comments when he gets especially egregiously self-promotional that those not commenting are obviously embarrassed for him or are simply being polite. Pursuit of the truth in Dreher's comboxes pretty obviously takes a back seat to the opportunity for your Mom to be able to see you on TV.

    7. The behavior in the comboxes is what I have come to term the "Charles Featherstone Option" (ChaFeaOpt for now, but it probably sounds better in Italian)

      No one wants to upset the applecart since they all think they're one good blog post away from having the book that is currently ranked #162,631 in Books > Religion & Spirituality on Amazon.

  4. Beautiful post, Pauli. It ought to be made sticky here as long as the BOp is being touted. The more people interested in what the BOp is who see this, the better.