The Benedict Option for Catholics -- Part I

Mont Saint-Michel, French Atlantic Coast

There has been a lot of talk about the best-selling book: The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Catholic Answers Focus recently did an interview with the author, Rod Dreher, which you can listen to the podcast here. It's really quite good, and it's really NOT what a lot of people think it is.

Admittedly, when I first head of the Benedict Option, I was a sceptic. I still am a sceptic of the popular interpretation of it. However, after listening to Dreher on Catholic Answers, my opinion has changed a bit.

What if I were to tell you the following...
  1. Contrary to popular opinion, we are NOT living through the Last Days of humanity. The coming of Antichrist is still likely centuries away. Everyone reading this will likely live to a ripe, old age (Lord willing), as will their children and grandchildren. So we need to start dealing with that reality again. Radical apocalypticism has only contributed to the problems of our Western civilisation, by causing Christians to mentally retreat from everything, in order to prepare for "The End."  
  2. The current spiritual/moral malaise the West is going through right now is NOT a passing storm. It's here to stay.
  3. We have entered a post-Christian world, and this is our new reality.
  4. We are NEVER going back to 1950s Catholicism, nor are we going back to 1940s Catholicism, nor 1930s, nor 1900, nor 1870, nor 1850, etc. We're not going back to any of that -- ever -- those days are over. It is done.
  5. Mainstream Protestantism is dying in the West, and will continue to die.
  6. Evangelical Protestantism is not far behind, and is in fact heading toward a total implosion that will eventually see its demise even quicker than Mainstream Protestantism.
  7. Eastern Orthodoxy is struggling, experiencing only short bursts of growth for brief periods of time, followed by periods of stagnation and biological attrition. 
  8. The mainstream Catholic Church is sinking as well, but at a slower rate. It is only now just beginning to experience the vocation and financial crisis that lay ahead. In the decades to come, dioceses all across Europe and the Americas will be downsizing! Catholic parishes and schools will gradually be sold off, as will diocesan-owned properties and assets. Parishes will be merged, downsized, and merged again. The main strategy of this current generation of bishops is now "managed decline."
  9. The mainstream religious orientation of tomorrow's generation in the West will be Secular and Islamic: more Islamic in Europe, and more Secular in the Americas. Christianity will gradually become a minority religion in these areas.
  10. This reality will manifest over the next generation. It cannot be stopped, and will not be reversed outside of a miraculous intervention from God himself.
  11. That intervention will likely come, eventually, because God is faithful, but when it does, the world is NOT going to automatically become Catholic again. That's not how it works. It's never worked that way in the past, and it won't work that way in the future. Rather, it will need to be re-evangelised, and this will take generations of solid faith and sacrificial commitment.
  12. The Western Catholic Church of today is unprepared to accept this challenge.
  13. The Western Catholic Church of today can't even stop its own haemorrhaging of youth leaving the Church, let alone reach out to the heathen youth of today or tomorrow.
Still, the decline of the Catholic Church in the West is not universal. There are places were it is growing. We have small, isolated, pockets in North America, as well as rapidly expanding dioceses in Africa and Asia. Looking at these communities may serve to help us. But first, we must understand the problem.

What is the problem?

The problem is modern Western culture -- Modernism -- and this is what is discussed in the book The Benedict Option. Our Modernist culture is just too overwhelming for parents to be able to do their jobs anymore. It is virtually impossible for parents to raise godly children, in the self-sacrificial Catholic faith, when the message of the world (even the message of consumer Christianity) is that of self-gratification. Like ancient Rome, the culture is destined for collapse. It's hard to say if or when such a collapse would be political, but it most certainly is cultural.

On a personal side note, living here in the Bible Belt of the United States, I am constantly hearing local Protestants refer to the November 2016 election of Donald Trump as some kind of "turning point" for the culture, and they fully expect things to get better now. I'm sorry to report to you that our Evangelical brethren are sorely mistaken on this, and will be in for a rude awakening sometime in the not-too-distant future. Politicians cannot solve this problem. Those who believe the election of Trump marks some kind of cultural turning point are sadly deceiving themselves.

So with a culture that is overwhelmingly Modernist, wherein Catholic parents have no choice, what is this Benedict Option in modern terms? No, it's not what you think. It's not about going out into the wilderness to live as the Amish do. I suppose that might be a viable choice for some, but certainly not for most. For the average Catholic, the Benedict Option heavily involves your local Catholic parish.

The Catholic parish must be revived, or rebuilt, to become a truly communal place, as it was originally meant to be. Catholics can no longer look at Catholicism as just one aspect of their lives. Rather, they must now look at it as their entire lives. Catholicism can no longer influence us. It must define us, and yes, the local Catholic parish is the key to making this whole thing work. Without it, any attempt at a Benedict Option will fail miserably. So with that said, what are some things Catholic families can do to bring the Benedict Option to your local Catholic parish...
  1. Abandon radical apocalypticism. That is not our calling folks. We are commanded to LIVE our lives, and LIVE THEM JOYFULLY, without fear. I have a book coming out this year which will help in this area. It's called A Catholic Guide to the Last Days. Yes, some bad things are coming our way, just as they did in previous generations, but it's NOT the end of the world.
  2. Home school your children. Remember, your goal here is to raise them to be good Christians, not little Einsteins. Just as parents who send their children to schools can get overly focused on academics, so can home schooling parents. Granted, we need to teach our kids to read and write, as well as math, history, science and other things. BUT, that should never be the focus of the homeschooling Catholic parent. FAITH is the focus, and it must be a FAITH OF JOY without fear. If you don't have this. Get it! Because you can't give your children that which you don't have.
  3. Set up a home school support group at your local parish. You don't need the parish to organise this for you. You can organise this yourself. Simply bring your priest into the loop and ask for his prayers. Naming him as your official chaplain will go a long way toward this. Some priests just don't get it yet, and a lot of them want you to send your children to Catholic schools instead. They need to be educated that Catholic schools simply don't work for all families. Home school support groups are not the same as cooperatives or academies. The latter focus more on academics. A support group is just that. It's a place where parents support one another, and children have time to fellowship and play. Occasionally some activities might be involved.
  4. Turn off the television, or at the very least, severely limit it. If you choose to have a television in your home, families should be very selective about what they watch. Spending hours on end, in front of the television, will corrupt any child's mind, and even some adult minds too. This didn't used to be the case, in the 1950s through 70s, but in recent decades, the culture has gone so overwhelmingly Modernist, that it cannot be redeemed. It can only be turned off.
  5. The same discretion must apply to movies, radio, Internet and video games.
  6. There should be no televisions or screens in bedrooms at all. This separates the family.
  7. If you have the Internet in your home, you MUST apply filters to internet accessible devices that children handle. Children must not be allowed to access the Internet in their rooms, or away from parental view. Parents must be in the habit of looking at their devices frequently and randomly, without warning. This will teach the children that they can never escape your supervision. In addition, ask the children to show you any material they think might be inappropriate. While doing this, teach them the skills they need to discern for themselves what is appropriate viewing material and what is not. Sheltering children from information will not last into adulthood. Like the Amish, sheltered children will simply go on worldly binges when they reach maturity and only some will come back to the fold. Rather, children must be taught to form good information searching habits instead, being taught the difference between right and wrong and why, which they can carry with them into adulthood. 
  8. Start working on community activities with your local parish. Bible studies and prayer groups are great, but I'm talking about something more here. For example; a community garden might be one option for men, women and children. Knitting, sewing and cooking groups might be some other options as well. Are there any hunters or fishermen in your parish? How about organising some group outings and bring back some meat for the parish as well. These can all be shared with the community, and even given to those in need. I know this sounds somewhat "Amish" in a way, but remember, I'm talking about parishes in the middle of urban cities too. Even people who live there sometimes go out on hunting and fishing trips outside the city. A donation of a deep freezer to the Church basement can supply a source of protein for parish members struggling with grocery bills, and the outings that made that protein possible can supply men (or women) with the fellowship they need to build each other up in Christ. Who knows? Maybe even your priest likes to fish or hunt!
  9. NETWORK with other parishioners, and start supporting their local businesses and trades.
  10. In addition to mass, plan a weekly Evening Prayer (Vespers) meeting, followed by a potluck or snacks. The same could be done with Sunday mass in smaller parishes. 
The point here is to make your local parish more than just a weekly stop for an hour-long mass, then back to the rest of your life. The point here is to make your parish your life entirely. That is the Benedict Option for Catholics. Alongside Dreher's book, another volume by Archbishop Charles Chaput should be consulted. It's called Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. I would recommend them side by side...



Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of '' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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Cotton said…
Your article provides much food for thought and action - hopefully what you suggest we do will come into being in the near future. Many priest need to get out of the administrative role and into the spiritual needs of the parish. It would be wonderful to see more priest spending time on their knees in Church and less in the administrative office.

JD said…
Why not GOOD Catholic schools (eg NAPCIS or those affiliated with Institute for Liberal Catholic Education)???

These schools are much better than the average parochial or diocesan school.