Leah Libresco has given us a wonderful testimony of conversion to the faith and now as a Christian she is leading us on to better live our faith. Her recent book, Building the Benedict Option (Amazon) provides a guide for building small faith communities.
On a certain level, it seems like a kind of small group guide. A kind of how-to for building small groups, which Christians of various stripes have found particularly useful in recent times of loneliness. It succeeds at being a guide for such groups without being a set methodology.
However, it is more. I read a view of Christianity that is engaging yet has a certain distance to itself. Although Rod Drehr has some good points the original, The Benedict Option, my reading of it made it sound a little too disengaged from society. Christians do need our time apart to pray and participate in fellowship. However, although Libresco focusing on building community, she seems to have more of an evangelizing sense to that community.
Libresco brings out this evangelizing aspect of Christianity in her discussion of public witness. She talks about how a priest or sister wearing religious garb out in a way that allows all to project “Catholicism” on them. She talks about processions and has posted pictures of simple ones she’s organized on social media so she walks the walk.
The most powerful lines to me were when talking about how she would stop social activities to say some prayers together. This made some non-Christian friends feel awkward. Libresco responds, “My friends would rightly be appalled if I kept my husband a secret, if I never spoke about him in public. If I excluded my friends from a relationship that was so central to my life, they would feel that they were being held at arm’s length. And they would worry about my husband, too! […] My relationship with God is more fundamental to my being than my relationship with my husband, but, on social media and in person, God gets short shrift.”
Ultimately, it is about simple things to build up the faith community. Near the beginning (page 25) she cites Fr. Alexander Schmemann. Schmemann argued that instead of being romantic about monastic life, Christians can do some simple things: get a job, preferably a simple one with little creativity; go to the same Church and try to help; be open to serve but don’t thrust yourself on anyone; and “be always simple, light, joyous.” (page 97-98)
Overall, it is a worthwhile book which speaks on several levels, often at the same time.
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