Swimming Across the Riptide: The Benedict Option in Action

Benedicts
Voiced by Amazon Polly

Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option advocates a simple response to modernity: retreat, re-arm, and renew. Basing his battle plan on that of the sixth century founder of Western monasticism, Dreher argued that, just as St. Benedict abandoned the decadence of a declining Roman Empire, so Christians today should respond to a society crumbling into decadence by pulling back, circling the wagons, and looking to preserve Christian culture in enclaves of community, commitment, and a common life in Christ.

Dreher was criticized for being defeatist, idealistic, and overly negative. However, many of his critics clearly had not read his book. He was never calling for all of us to head for the hills, grow beards, raise chickens, and build little chapels where we gather to recite the rosary and wait for doomsday. Instead, his vision was simply the response of the Christian church engaged in the perennial question of the right relationship between Christ’s kingdom and the kingdom of this world. 

In various epochs in Church history, Christians have faced the same challenge: do we fight the prevailing godless culture or do we accommodate the spirit of the age—adapting the faith to the zeitgeist? The third way has always been neither to fight nor to accommodate but to live out a radical Christian witness within the world. This third way has been the apostolic way, the way of the great missionaries, martyrs, and saints: They were in the world but not of the world.

Dreher simply picked up one aspect of this way: the need to pull back from acceptance and integration with the way of the world and to intentionally lead a different kind of life—one that focuses on family, faith, and fellowship. If there was a weakness to Dreher’s argument, it was that it lacked a solid theological premise. That fault has been rectified by a new book by young theologian Joshua Brumfield. 

The Benedict ProposalChurch as Creative Minority in the Thought of Pope Benedict XVI adds the theological insights of Pope Benedict to the practical rule of St. Benedict. Brumfield explores Ratzinger’s Trinitarian theology as it links to his ecclesiology and thoughts on mission and the Eucharist.

He quotes the German theologian: “We need men like Benedict of Nursia, who, in an age if dissipation and decadence, immersed himself in uttermost solitude. Then after all the purification he had to undergo, he succeeded in rising again to the light…from which he assembled the forces from which a new world was formed.” 

Likening the cultural forces of modernity to a riptide, Brumfield points out that one dare not attempt to swim against the riptide. To be saved, one swims perpendicular to the tide and so escapes the deadly current.

Brumfield echoes Ratzinger’s call for Christians to become a “creative minority” in the world—a remnant of a Christian society that retains the vitality and radical discipleship of the early church. This “creative minority” is a community rooted in the unity of the Trinity as expressed in the Eucharist in order to be the resurrected body of Christ in the world.

Swimming perpendicular to the riptide means going against the instinct and doing something that seems daring, but which, in hindsight, will prove to have been common sense. Individuals and families cannot take this sideways step to become Pope Benedict’s “creative minorities” on their own. Instead, they join with others in communities of faith, structuring their lives by the principles within the essence of the Benedictine vows of stability, obedience, and conversion of life. These are put in gear through the three Benedictine “tools” of prayer, work, and study. Brumfield uses the new ecclesial communities like Focolare as examples of the “creative minorities.”

The problem is that too often the new ecclesial communities are victims of all idealistic enterprises. Corruption creeps in. Self-righteousness and spiritual superiority can infect the community and their very unusualness becomes their worst enemy. The danger is that of weirdness. They are so “heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” A more down to earth and ordinary way is for the local parish to become the creative minority that Pope Benedict calls for.

For this to happen, renewal takes place within the ordinary parish. But we have found that along with renewal is another phenomenon—people moving to an area specifically to belong to the vibrant Catholic community that already exists in that place. 

The headmaster of our parish school has coined a term for swimming across the riptide and moving to a parish where a family can be part of this wider movement. Relocatiō is to relocate not just for better house prices or a job promotion, but to seek out an environment, parish, school, and Catholic community where others are striving to live out the radical commitment that evangelizes by a blend of reverent worship, social engagement, community commitment, and vibrant classical Catholic education.

Greenville, South Carolina, is one area of the country where an increasing number of families are moving. With a buoyant job market, an attractive climate, and a strong, traditional Catholic community, in these difficult times people are not heading to the hills, but to the foothills of Upstate South Carolina. 

This is not a fearful and pessimistic retreat from the world, but rather an intentional choice to belong to a sympathetic community where a traditional Catholic faith is practiced with optimism and a positive spirit. Instead of being viewed as an idealistic escape, it is a positive engagement. It is swimming across the riptide—not against it.

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

Fr. Dwight Longenecker

By

Father Dwight Longenecker is the pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His upcoming book, Beheading Hydra: A Radical Plan for Christians in an Atheistic Age, will be published by Sophia Institute Press in the Spring. Read more at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

Crisis Magazine Comments Policy

This is a Catholic forum. As such:

  1. All comments must directly address the article. “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter.” (Matthew 12:36)
  2. No profanity, ad hominems, hot tempers, or racial or religious invectives. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
  3. We will not tolerate heresy, calumny, or attacks upon our Holy Mother Church or Holy Father. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
  4. Keep it brief. No lengthy rants, urls, or block quotes. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)
  5. If you see a comment that doesn’t meet our standards, please flag it so a moderator may remove it. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1)
  6. All comments may be removed at the moderators’ discretion. “But of that day and hour no one knows…” (Matthew 24:36)
  7. Crisis isn’t responsible for the content of the comments box. Comments do not represent the views of Crisis magazine, its editors, authors, or publishers. “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God… So each of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10, 12)
MENU