The Benedict Option & Hope

A reader writes (I’ve slightly edited this to protect his privacy):

After reading lots about The Benedict Option, I bought it and read it in August. In October, I read Leah Libresco’s Building the Benedict Option. I’m your target audience. Totally. I’m a red state conservative Catholic, transplanted to [major Blue State city]. I’ve been attending the same parish church for 25 years. We sent our kids to the parish K-8 school, and then to the Catholic high school. But, it’s [progressive city], where the faith is dilute and all the opposing forces in the culture are strong.

I gathered a group of faithful friends and we spent 5 years trying to light a fire under the faith in our parish. And we finally gave up. The parish administrator thought our programs were too expensive (half of one percent of the parish income). The parish lay bureaucrat in charge doesn’t believe what the church teaches on any of the controversial topics. And our pastor says a very nice mass, but can’t be bothered to run the parish. The school claims that 70% of the families are Catholic, but then we have a mass involving the school kids and the church fills with people I’ve rarely seen before.

I believe your basic prediction about the future, that we’re in a post-Christian nation, that our politics are moving toward more and more overt persecution of Christian faithful. I voted for Trump and like him more than you do. But it looks to me like Texas and Florida will flip from red to blue in the next decade, and we’ll have elected the last Republican president in my lifetime. I work in a company that’s all about diversity, and half expect that one day I’m going to lose my job over something that amounts to a thought crime. I’m Peter Vlaming walking, and nothing that I’ve done for my company or my co-workers will matter.

I tell you all this to establish some credentials. I’m on your side. I buy what you’re saying. I like your writing. And I want to offer a suggestion. I’ve been reading your posts on The American Conservative for a few months now, and I’m about to have to swear off it because it is unrelentingly gloomy. I’m going to need hope to get me through the challenges ahead, and reading your blog drags me down.

So here’s my suggestion: Without changing who you are one bit, or your voice, or anything else about the way you’ve built the online community you have, please mix in some positive content about what BenOp communities are up to, about how faithful people and communities are surviving and prospering. More like this:

More about seeds of Catholic/Christian renewal in the midst of the awful scandals that drag on and on. A few rays of sunshine will really help to dispel the gloom, and I need that. I think you need it, too.

I know there are fewer of these stories, and it’s harder to find them. But it matters. It’s the way you can help BenOp communities to succeed. And it’s how you gather the connections and material for the next BenOp book. Lots of people can write the books that accurately analyze the problem. It’s the rare person who can synthesize solutions and point the way out of the abyss. You get credit for doing just that in The Benedict Option. But the first BenOp book is not the end of the road. It’s the beginning.

Wow, I deeply thank the reader for this letter. I need to hear it. I have been in a rut for a while. It’s very, very easy to read the Internet and find signs every day that we are in a bad place, and getting worse. It’s much more difficult to find signs of hope — but they are there! They really are. I woke up this morning thinking about the Benda family in Prague, and the joyful resilience of those Catholic heroes. Lying there in bed, I thought back over all my Benedict Option-related travels this past year — to Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, and Italy — and realized that in every place, I was the happiest and most hopeful I’ve been all year, precisely because I was in the presence of faithful people who understand how grave our situation is, but whose lives are led by a higher truth.

The thing is, I had to get on a plane and go places to find these things. I don’t have to leave the comfort of my armchair to find a thousand pieces of bad news, everywhere. The kind of things that bring people like you and me hope are invisible to the media (or they see them as bad news). I need to work harder to find the signs of hope and bring them to you. But look, may I ask you to help me? Please send me the good news. I can’t promise to post everything — I get lots and lots of letters every day — but I’ll promise to read it all.

Thanks again to the author of the e-mail above. I needed that kick in the butt. Believe it or not, I’m not a gloomy person by nature, as anyone who knows me personally can attest. But as I said above, I’ve been in a rut, in part because it’s so easy to do reading the news these days, but also in part because I get stuck on trying to shake fellow social and religious conservatives out of their torpor that I forget that “conversion,” so to speak, is only the first step: people also need discipleship.

Look at the image above. In it, little Maria Grazia Zennaro teaches her baby brother Pietro how to walk. It’s a still from a short video clip their father, Giovanni, sent to me the other day. The sister leads the little boy across the kitchen of their home in rural Italy, and at the end, they embrace. Giovanni and his wife Alice are not just sitting there looking at the darkening world and despairing; they are taking action, with their friends, to build real Christian community for themselves and their kids.

I need more Maria Grazia and Pietro in my life. I bet you do too.

Write me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com with your Benedict Option signs of hope. Again, I receive far too much mail daily to post everything, or even to respond. But I’ll read it.

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Author: Rod Dreher

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