The Benedict Option
Recently there has been talk in conservative political circles that Christians need to make a radical response to the de-Christianization of western civilization. This response, in the words of some, is called the “Benedict Option”. You can read more about it here.
The Benedict option consists in a withdrawal from secular society and the founding of Catholic enclaves in the countryside to preserve Christian civilization.
Proposed in such terms, the example of the great Saint Benedict of Nursia, who abandoned the city of Rome to found a monastery (eventually at Monte Cassino) serves as a template of sorts.
But preservation — of itself a good a noble cause — can ever only be 1 aspect of Christian society. This is because the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and as such, it is a living organism, which not only preserves Itself true to its Founder, but grows and thrives.
Thus, for Catholics merely to withdraw from society, and take flight in the countryside, would not be faithful to their mission as adopted sons of God, since in doing such, they would only be faithful in part, and not in whole.
Friar Junípero Serra Ferrer
Bl. Junipero Serra was a Franciscan priest of the Alcantarine Observance. On account of the work he did in founding 21 mission-stations in California, he is universally consider the founder of the cities of that land, which is now a state of the United States of America.
Here is a brief synopsis of his life, from the official site for his cause for canonization:
At his beatification on September 25, 1988, Fray Junipero Serra, O.F.M., S.T.D. (1713-1784), was declared by His Holiness Pope John Paul II to be a “shining example of Christian Virtue and the Missionary Spirit.” The new Blessed is truly an international luminary.
He distinguished himself as an exemplary Franciscan priest, respected in academic circles, and acclaimed in the pulpit by the age of thirty-five. During the next two decades, he labored as an apostolic missionary throughout central Mexico, notably in the Sierra Gorda among the Pame Indians. During the final fifteen years of his life, he emerged as a pioneer and the Apostle of California. Dramatically he demonstrated the natural and supernatural branch of his missionary motto: “Always go forward – never turn back!”
On his deathbed at Mission Carmel, Blessed Junipero Serra promised that if God granted him “eternal happiness” he would pray for “all dwellers in the missions, and for the conversion of so many whom I leave unconverted.” Armed with the knowledge that he promised to continue his apostolate from Heaven, and knowing that he is indeed there as affirmed by his beatification, we are guaranteed that Blessed Junipero is truly a heroic friend and ally, able to intercede for us before God himself. As such, he is a channel of divine grace and a source of inspiration and solace.
Due to the fact that this Saint who worked miracles in life and after death made a specific promise to work for the conversion of souls after death, he is a fitting patron for Catholics of today, who are facing a complete collapse of western civilization’s Christian and Christ-centered culture.
The Serra Option
Walking in the footsteps of St Francis as Bl. Junipero did, who kept the ancient observance of the Rule of St. Francis, I consider it necessary to state that there is a better way and solution, than the Benedict option, to the current crises in the West. And this solution I take from the example of his holy life.
In part, I agree that it can be good and very useful for Catholics to separate from the godless world in which they find themselves. While spiritually this can be done anywhere, but it is much more facile to do this in an enclave dedicated to the Catholic faith and Christian culture. Such an enclave would be intrinsically fertile for all aspects of Catholic society, for Catholic Families, the Church, for vocations and their culture expression.
But it is necessary to add the living aspect, that is one which is aimed at restoring the Social Reign of Jesus Christ, not only through families and the Church, or cultural endeavors, which would regard education and public profession of the Catholic Faith, or only in regard to political undertakings, but through that which is the life-blood of societies: economic activity.
As Bl. Serra gathered the natives of California together and taught them the faith and instructed them in professions by which they could support themselves and their families, so if Catholics are to restore the Social Reign of Jesus Christ, they would be better off establishing Catholic enclaves where they could do all these things in conjunction with an effort to promote their own economic activities, necessary to sustain all these good works.
Baptizing the Italian Republic
What Bl. Serra did was to baptize the Italian City-State and direct it towards the establishment of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth. There was in his missions the intention of establishing in general terms the norms of public and societal life according to the teachings of the Gospel and the Catholic religion, with the ancient Roman Rite at the center of the Mission’s worship of the Triune God.
Similarly, in the Serra Option, Catholics would gather together in a religious institution, which would establish minimums to be observed as a requirement of membership, but leave enough freedom for Catholics of all states of life to join, clergy, religious, laity (married or not), so long as they keep the requirements. They would band together and found new villages and towns, where they lived in close proximity —after the example of their forebears in Europe — in a urban plan which promoted the public expression of the Catholic Faith, an education system which raised all the Children and formed all the youth in the example of the Catholic Saints, and which prepared and enabled the adults to fully engage in free economic activity in a manner which was mutually beneficial, free-market based, and aimed at the mutual self-protection and promotion of the city-state.
This is what I call the Serra Option. And I believe with the vivacity and power of grace and economics, such an option will be more successful in the long run.