The Benedict Option, Part Two: This Time It’s Personal

Part one aka What the heck is this thing? is here.

At Leah’s, we discussed all three points on my more-individual-to-more-immersive spectrum. From the first point we noted that DC has flourishing communities not only around the Dominicans but also the Franciscans; hit me up eve_tushnet@yahoo.com if you want more on the latter. Libresco’s your go-to person for the former. We wrote down which people lived/worked where, and planned to meet up for Eucharistic adoration or daily Mass, followed by potluck. I admitted that I know nothing about caring for children but would like to learn, and a couple parents promised to apprentice me, essentially, in exchange for free babysitting once I’d learned. We pointed out places where our churches come together in joy: the Corpus Christi procession at St Matthew’s, for example, which I super love and which is about half-Latino, half-Anglo.

We talked about ways to make our churches spaces where Christian life is easier, fountains from which the living water can soak into the earth. One woman described her childhood parish, which had a meal schedule for welcoming new immigrants; wealthier parishioners shared in the traditions and spiritual practices of poorer newcomers, like posadas, and connected them with jobs and with Catholic Charities. Also, and I suspect this is very important, she said, “At every age, it’s assumed [in that parish] that you’re going to be doing catechesis,” whether that’s adult Bible study or youth catechesis or something else.

I think looking at my interview with Peter would also give some ideas on creating these fountains of faith in practice–in fact that interview gives examples of all three points on this “Benedict Option spectrum” I’m perhaps-Procrusteanly creating.

Libresco suggested we ask ourselves, “What am I doing by myself that I could be doing with other people? And can I do it in public?” So like praying the Divine Office, that’s a thing you don’t have to do on your own. Or eating food.

On the second point, homemaking, several people in the group had either already created homes where single people were incorporated into a family, or were planning to do that, or were eager to do that. We also talked a bit about rooming-house situations: Would you live your faith with more sprezzatura and realism, rather than living a theoretical faith in your head, if you lived with other Christians? There are churches with websites to help you find housing, which we could use as a model (=steal), and also a Facebook thing for DC-area Catholics looking for shared housing. (It’s not this, though, I don’t think.) ETA: IT’S THIS!

One guy said–I think this phrasing is hilarious, so true–“As a modern person, I find interaction with other people burdensome.” He pointed out that there’s always a “path of less resistance,” like texting, a way to avoid actual human contact.

And he didn’t say this, but one of the bad side effects of this expectation that we don’t need to be burdened by other people is that it can be really hard to tell when the burden is actually unreasonable for us to bear. If your default is that dealing with other people is difficult, it’s easy to think that you’re just being lazy or selfish when you’re in a situation where you really are being wrongfully asked to sacrifice for another person. On the one hand even good marriages include the Cross; on the other hand, some people actually abuse their spouses, you know? The same dynamic applies with many other relationships, like friendship and community: It can take a lot of prudence to tell when another person is expecting the impossible from you, using you, or pulling you away from your vocation in order to serve their needs.

Anyway, back to our story: All three kinds of Benedict Options are (or should be, imo) open to the world, but in different ways. The first, individualistic BenOp (this is better than B.O., y’all) is often about finding wells: water sources, where you can draw water and bring it back to your village, back to your daily life and the people you interact with all the time, Christian and otherwise.

The second thing, homemaking, will often include some form of hospitality. What that looks like will be different for everyone. It might be opening your home to people who have no secure housing; but there are lots of reasons you might not do that, and there are many other ways to make your home a haven for others. Sharing a meal with someone in need–or listening to her while you do your laundry–often means more than you realize.

Some discussions of the third BenOp, the ethos-shaping community, make it sound like the whole point of the BenOp is to shelter yourself and your kids from outsiders. But as you’ll see when I do the next post, on an actual nascent Catholic community, that doesn’t need to be how it works. You can weave a Catholic community into a secular one; you can be neighbors with all your neighbors. (I suspect doing things this way will also make it so much easier for everyone to stay loving and gentle when your kids, as some of them inevitably will, decide to follow a different path from the one you tried to guide them toward.)

Last but not least, I’m fascinated by the ways in which the various BenOps allow people to serve with their neediness, not just with their areas of strength. There’s a strong emphasis on mutual support, solidarity with other people whose economic and/or spiritual struggles are similar to yours, and also an emphasis on learning to do life with people who are very different from yourself.

The ideas people were coming up with at Leah’s place had an air of equality, rather than rich-serving-poor: an air of invitation and exchange, of shared prayer and shared life. I’d like to see that go further. We caught glimpses of an ethic where people in severe poverty and homeless people are a part of our community and contribute on an equal basis with people who just paid off their mortgage, but I don’t think any of us at Leah’s are there yet. That’s something I would like to see explored further, I think.

Next up: What is a Hyattsville, and why?


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