In our previous post, “Staying too long at the dance,” we said,
But it seems to us that, while certainly withdrawal into safe circles is the only reasonable response to the situation—and by this we mean (1) finding and building relationships with solid bishops and priests, (2) focusing ever more intensely on traditional devotions to Our Lord really present in the Eucharist and Our Lady’s Rosary, and (3) deepening one’s understanding of the doctrine of the Church—so too is hope.
(Emphasis supplied.) We wanted to expand upon this briefly in the context of various “options” floating around.
In particular, Rod Dreher has pushed, in various forms, his so-called Benedict Option for a while now. The nut of the idea is this: orthodox Christians are essentially and irrevocably at odds with the liberal, secular culture now dominant in the United States, and in order to preserve one’s faith and one’s family from the onslaught of that culture, it is advisable to form stable communities around religious institutions, like churches or monasteries. The idea is that the storm has to blow over sooner or later and that, when it does, these islands of the faith will be available and ready to re-evangelize the United States. (For our part, we think there are some problems with the idea, not the least of which is who decides when the storm has blown over. Also, small communities don’t always maintain a good sense of balance and perspective, to put it decorously.) There has been some serious criticism of Dreher’s basic idea and some criticism that’s less well articulated. Dreher has advanced other ideas, like Leah Libresco’s “be active in your parish” suggestion.
We do not mean by our comment in “Staying too long at the dance” to suggest that traditionally minded Catholics ought to come up with a Benedict Option-type solution (an Athanasius Option? a Lefebvre Option?) As unwieldy as the Benedict Option seems to be in practice, a similar plan for traditionally minded Catholics seems even less workable. Neither did we mean to suggest taking the Benedict Option to the next level, pulling a Hans Castorp, and retreating to a mountain refuge to pray and debate doctrine while the Church is shaken by paroxysms not seen since the Council. (Another friend wrote to us as we were drafting this comment to point this flaw in our original post out, which we attribute to more than serendipity.) All of those options tend to discount the very real value that action—motivated by an orthodox will—can have on the situation in the Church and society more broadly.
As every priest reminds us sooner or later, we are all members of the Body of Christ, His Church, and we are often called upon to help Christ by acting in accordance with his will, as best as we can discern it. That is, while we ought to hope that God will save his people once again as he has done over and over again from the beginning of time, as the Psalmist always hoped, we need to remember that we might be the divine intervention for the Church and for society we are hoping for. It is not insignificant to us that the readings in the 1960 Breviary right now are from the books of Maccabees. Thus, while it is important to, as we said, form networks of solid bishops and priests (recalling one’s obligations to one’s pastor and one’s ordinary), to renew our attachment to traditional devotions, and to deepen our knowledge of the faith, it is also important to put this orthodoxy into action. This can take many forms in many places, and those forms are often dictated by circumstances.
However, if, after considering the circumstances, a strategic retreat seems like the best option for oneself and one’s family, then it may be appropriate to consider some Option or another. Our point is that beating a retreat as a policy is bound to result in disaster. It did after the Council and it will here, too, if we’re not careful. We did not mean to suggest in our original comments that beating a retreat was the reasonable response in all cases or, indeed, in many cases.
While we are on the subject, a digression about the Novus Ordo. Some fairly prominent commentators on the Synod have taken the opportunity to remind us, once more, that they really, really do not like the Novus Ordo Mass (the Missal of Bl. Paul VI or the Forma Ordinaria or what-have-you). Some make vague noises about the liceity of the Novus Ordo and some make vaguer noises about its validity. One of our friends has noted how unhelpful this attitude is at the moment. We tend to agree. The current debate is over basic Gospel truths, and it seems to us that anyone who is willing to stand up for those basic Gospel truths is one of the good guys regardless of their liturgical orientation. Now, we think it is unlikely that a priest is going to process in to “Hear I Am, Lord,” amid felt banners and dancers, ad lib a little and there with the Collect, say Eucharistic Prayer II, ad libbing a little more with the preface or whatever, and then preach a barn-burning sermon against adultery and in defense of Our Lord really present in the Eucharist. But he could. And it seems to us to be shortsighted to discount that priest entirely because his Mass is a mess redolent of John Paul’s worst ceremonies. But, as we noted, we digress.