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Living the Benedict Option in the Middle of Civilization

Since its publication in 2017, many of my Catholic friends have criticized Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option: “It’s too pessimistic. Christians shouldn’t run for the hills. Besides, the culture isn’t in decline. We just elected a pro-life president.” These were some of the common responses I would get after sharing my enthusiastic thoughts on the bestseller. However, just three years later in 2020, it seems that the Benedict Option has become the only option for the survival of our faith in the 21st century. The faithful have not found staunch leadership at the highest levels of the Church hierarchy willing to brace the Church’s gates against the battering ram of our rotten culture. With the help of holy priests willing to teach in an orthodox manner, lay Catholics must take up a large part of passing on the Faith to future generations themselves.

Twenty twenty has produced a grim news cycle in the United States. It started with COVID-19. Then it was the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks. Neil Gorsuch and the Supreme Court potentially eviscerated future First Amendment religious liberty rights cases with their decision in the Bostock case. “Social justice warriors” have also targeted statues of any historical figure that does not hold up to ever changing modern standards, including a canonized Catholic saint (Fr. Junipero Serra). Black Lives Matter proponent Shaun King and others are now calling for any depiction of a “white” or “European” Jesus to be taken down and destroyed. Despite all of these provocations, there is almost nary a word from the Catholic hierarchy. The California Conference of Catholic Bishops simply wrote a letter explaining that the tearing down of Fr. Serra’s statue “fails the test” of history. With all due respect to our bishops, this letter will do nothing to stop these vandals. It is about as effective as a father calmly telling his toddler throwing a tantrum to “stop it” over the telephone.

With our culture and churches in disarray and the majority of the episcopacy unwilling to boldly stand up for unpopular truths, lay Catholics have good reason to believe that our cultural and political future on Earth does not look promising. Dreher warned Christians in Benedict Option that this and worse days could come. We are already seeing some evidence confirming the accelerating and growing “cancel culture.” For example, Catholics like Timothy Gordon have been fired (even from Catholic institutions) simply for speaking Christian truths, as has been discussed here on OnePeterFive and elsewhere. The Bostock decision will only accelerate the firings of those who proclaim Catholic orthodoxy as religious exemptions in employment law are challenged in the courts. This means that Catholic churches and schools will be seriously affected in being able to publicly affirm basic teachings of the Catholic faith.

Additionally, in some Catholic parishes and dioceses, laity now hear sermons and messages that sound more like “woke” social justice “morality” than the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church and Our Lord. This is even happening at the highest levels of the Church. Consider that the Vatican itself praised Black Lives Matter as a nonviolent organization while criticizing priests who resisted closing their church doors for COVID-19 as “adolescents”. None of this can be reconciled with the Catholic faith. A brief glimpse at the “What We Believe” section of the Black Lives Matter website proves instantly that it does not align with Catholicism in any way. It is in fact explicitly Marxist, a fact the group’s founder recently and proudly admitted in a live interview. And perhaps the “adolescent” priests who criticized church closures really believe what they preach: that the sacraments are essential to our eternal salvation and are more “essential” than any business.

While times may seem dark, there is always hope. Many readers are likely familiar with the Benedict Option. Dreher writes about the options available to “small o” orthodox Christians to maintain a strong faith in a post-Christian world. A rapidly growing number of people, including many Catholics, have jumped and will continue to jump on the “woke” establishment bandwagon. To endure the trials and tests that are coming, I urge readers to seek tradition. Catholics who seek holy priests and parishes that are not afraid to speak God’s hard truths will find themselves in communities of Catholics that live up to the orthodox teachings of the Church. In turn, it will be easier for Catholics in such parishes to live through coming trials that test their faith.

If you live in a city with a parish that offers the traditional Latin Mass, start going there and never look back. These are the churches that will hold the line and continue to teach an honest and vigorous Catholicism in the generations to come. At Latin Mass parishes, orthodoxy is being taught and understood. This is proven by the results of the traditional Latin Mass survey by Fr. Donald Kloster. The numbers from the survey, which Fr. John Zuhlsdorf highlighted on his blog recently, are staggering. Fr. Zuhlsdorf is not kidding when he says there is a “demographic sinkhole opening in the church.” For example, 99% of Latin Mass attendees go to Mass weekly, while only 22% of Novus Ordo (N.O.) attendees do. The numbers of those who approve of abortion (1% Latin Mass vs. 51% N.O.) and contraception (2% Latin Mass vs. 89% N.O.) are similarly polarized. The survey showed that attendees of the Latin Mass also gave five times as much to their parishes financially. That last note is an important one. It is likely that Novus Ordo parish attendance will continue to decline, and parishes will close and merge. Meanwhile, attendance at Latin Mass parishes continues to grow and become stronger.

Another important aspect of the Benedict Option is daily prayer and asceticism. The desert fathers of the early church clearly understood the importance of these practices. They understood that the ascetical life was important training for the frequent spiritual battles we fight every day. Small victories in self-denial prepare us to say no to the biggest temptations. While fasting and abstinence have been all but abandoned by most Catholics, they continue to have a strong presence in Latin Mass parishes. This is another built in advantage of attending such a parish.

I have two anecdotal examples. First, when I attended Novus Ordo Masses, I did not know that abstaining from meat on all Fridays was still the universal law of the Church. I had never met a Catholic who knew or did this. I never heard a priest mention it. When I began attending Mass regularly at an FSSP parish, I was astonished to learn that abstinence on all Fridays is indeed still the universal law of the Church. I have yet to meet a family at my new parish that does not abstain from meat on Fridays. In addition to this weekly abstention from meat, it is only in Latin Mass parishes in which I have seen the observation of Ember Days and Rogation Days. These traditional and largely abandoned days of fasting and abstinence are excellent penitential tools for a Catholic’s faith life.

The second example was my new parish’s response to COVID-19. Many of the Novus Ordo parishes in the area totally shut their doors. Many did not stream Masses online and offered limited confessions. My Latin Mass parish opened its doors every single day for adoration and private prayer, streamed a Mass each day for parishioners, offered the sacrament of reconciliation daily and hosted a rosary on Zoom daily for all interested families. These actions by our priests showed their true dedication to the faith. It is this type of example that has inspired parishioners to hold true to their own faith in 2020. This will be even more important in potentially harder times to come. We must surround ourselves with fellow parishioners and priests who truly live and practice the faith to bolster our own spiritual defenses.

For Catholics who haven’t already, it is time to implement the Benedict Option. When barbarians sacked Rome, Saint Benedict kept the flame of orthodox Christian discipline alive in the hills of Italy. In cities and towns in which they are available, Latin Mass parishes offer Catholics many ways carry this flame. If the United States and Western Europe fall to the “woke” barbarians of 2020 and beyond, we need to prepare our families and ourselves for what is to come.

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