I was catching up on my blogroll these past few days and saw an article by James, over at the great Cream City Catholic, where he wrote on Rod Dreher’s “Bendict Option”.
“The Benedict Option”, however, does not refer to the “Benedictine arrangement” (or anything related – as I initially thought), but rather refers to the example of St Benedict, who left “the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray.” Dreher continues his article, saying “Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization. I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts.”
James puts forth that things are notably different at traditional parishes – clear reverence to the Blessed Sacrament and in the church building, sacred music that is beautiful and not banal, regular and available confession times, reliance upon Latin, and well-prepared, doctrine-based homilies and sermons. These parishes foster a notable and distinct Catholic identity. These parishes, to James, are a great place to start the “Benedict Option” – and I mostly agree. Catholics need to offer a counter-cultural alternative to the godless, pornographic, and baby-murdering culture nor presented (along with the bland and uninspiring cultures you’ll find in countless suburban parishes all around the world).
However, I think we can supplement and improve upon the “Benedict Option” in a distinct way – add in a bit of Dominican flavor.
Before we get to that, though, the Benedict option is not a retreat to the hills, but as James quotes Pope Benedict XVI, “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’: just as Christ ‘draws all to himself’ by the power of his love, culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross, so the Church fulfills her mission to the extent that, in union with Christ, she accomplishes every one of her works in spiritual and practical imitation of the love of her Lord.” This is important to keep in mind because, while some folks might be more inclined to “hide their light under a bushel” or retreat to the confines and solitude of a monastery, not all of us are called to do that.
So, how can we learn from the Dominicans?
First, we know about how society is largely uneducated, after the complete shirking of catechesis by heterodox laity and clergy over the past fifty years, so we need preachers, those who can competently teach and witness the truths of the Faith to our baptized and unbaptized brethren.
Second, we need those who can study, for without knowledge, we can only progress so far in the spiritual life. Further, how can we give that which we do not have? (Hint: We can’t.) So, a contemplative study will give us a springboard off which we can base our teaching endeavors.
Third, we need a stronger meditative life. In our day, we are CONSTANTLY bombarded with noises, distractions, and the latest flibbitigibbet. Do you need to know about some shooting on the other side of the world? Do you need to see the latest advert for an overpriced minicomputer? Or the latest pop song that will be stuck in your head and distract you from the important things to contemplate? (The answer is generally a resounding ‘NO!’). Without meditation, we cannot hope to progress in the spiritual life.
Fourth, we need stronger prayer. What is the basis for this? That which the Dominicans were best-known for in former times (aside from their preaching) – the Sung Office. The Divine Office comprises the other half of the public prayer of the Church. Everyone is familiar with the Mass, as almost all Catholics are obliged to attend it, however, so few Catholics nowadays are familiar with the Office that it is a travesty. In the Psalms, we hear “Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice” (Ps 119:164), and this, along with a Jewish tradition of praying the Psalms, was the foundation for the Office. I heartily join in the Modern Medievalist’s call to restore the Divine Office as a foundation of culture.
If Catholics desire to put forth a solid, comprehensive, and convincing “counterculture” to society, one that shows the beauty, glory, and grandeur of our holy religion, the Office (along with the other three Dominican charisms) are a solid and wonderful starting point to begin to build that up. You watch the end of Compline as sung by these Irish Dominicans, and you tell me that isn’t one of the more beautiful things you’ve seen today!
(And, if you want more Dominican chanting and singing, support the Dominican House of Studies in the Eastern Province and purchase their two CDs they have for sale at Dominicana Records!)
And for good resources on the Office and learning more about it, please see this post on Learning to Love the Divine Office at The Pertinacious Papist’s blog, where he features an article by the great Michael P. Foley.