By John Horvat
As the situation of the nation worsens, many are weighing their options. One much-discussed alternative is what is called the Benedict Option.
The Benedict Option is the name of a just-published book by journalist Rod Dreher. The author holds that conservatives have lost the Culture War and it is time to find a way to survive in a "post-Christian" America. Rather than oppose the wave of secularism that lashes society, it is much better to build arks to ride above the fray. These arks involve intentional communities, still inside society, that will allow members to develop themselves spiritually in the hope of better times — a wait that the author admits might even take centuries.
Mr. Dreher uses the example of Saint Benedict of Nursia who supposedly left decadent Rome to live an isolated intentional life away from society. Americans wishing to survive in these uncertain times are encouraged to "secede culturally from the mainstream." He insists that those involved must still have some presence in society, which might serve as an unintentional witness to those outside the option.
A great controversy has arisen around the Benedict Option. No one disputes the reasons behind the proposal. The nation faces grave dangers that merit action. However, many do question the wisdom of pursuing this option of ark-like withdrawal. The debate is complicated by the fact that there is no single option being proposed but rather many different options tailored to every religious group, dedication level or inclination.
The broad ecumenical character of the Benedict Option message may allow more to be included under its umbrella, but it also tends to reduce it to what is naturally possible to participants coming from differing religions. If all cannot agree about the role of grace in changing history, for example, then the matter must be addressed in generalities. The Benedict Option also tends to restrict it to an historical narrative that can be commonly held by all faiths.
Thus, concretely for the Catholic who is engaged in the Culture War and following the debate, there is one major omission that clouds the idea of a possibly Catholic Benedict Option.
That omission is Fatima. Nowhere in Mr. Dreher's book is there mention of Our Lady of Fatima or any role of the Blessed Mother in addressing the crisis. The problem is that the Mother of God is very central to the Catholic perspective. It is not optional.
This is especially true about the apparition of the Blessed Mother to three shepherd children in Portugal in 1917. The event has always been considered a solution directed to the present times — not that of possible centuries hence. It is perplexing that a proposal to deal with the current crisis would completely ignore the most spectacular religious and historic event of the 20th century that specifically addresses these very issues.
Anyone familiar with the message cannot help but be impressed by looking at the past and seeing that things Our Lady said would happen have, indeed, happened. Her warnings about world wars, conflicts, persecutions and the spreading of the errors of Russia throughout the world have all come to pass just as she predicted.
Likewise, a look at the present leads one easily to see how the Fatima message is more relevant than ever, especially in describing the immoral fashions, the blasphemies and the lack of Faith evident everywhere.
Given the Fatima record, there is no reason to doubt that those things that lie still in the future will also be fulfilled. To a world that has not heeded her warnings, the Blessed Mother foretold a great chastisement that will fall upon the world in which "nations will be annihilated" and the "good will be martyred." She also foretold the conversion of Russia and the world, and the triumph of Her Immaculate Heart.
The means by which these results might be obtained were clearly given by the Blessed Mother. She requested some general measures accessible to everyone inside and outside of society. These center on prayer, penance and amendment of life. She asked for specific actions in the observance of certain prayers on five consecutive first Saturdays and the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart. By its omission of the Fatima message, the Benedict Option makes all these essential requests optional.
And while it might be argued that Mr. Dreher would have no problem admitting a Fatima version of the Benedict Option, such a concession would only trivialize the message. Fatima becomes an equal option among so many others and not the only real and Heaven-sent solution for a modern world in crisis and apostasy as affirmed by popes and Catholics for the last hundred years.
Perhaps that is the main problem with the Benedict Option — it is only an option without a final goal. Options are by definition means or choices made toward an end. The Benedict Option is merely a means to survive the crisis — for centuries, if necessary. However, it has no specific or unified end. Participants need not even be Christian. There is no desire for a final unity but rather the option facilitates the continued fragmentation of the nation into subcultures inside the larger post-Christian society.
Nothing could be farther from the Fatima message, which foresees the whole world's conversion to the Faith and the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — and in the near future. The means and final goal are clear. It enlists the help of the Mother of God, since it clearly is beyond the capacity of people today to overcome the adversaries of the Faith.
On this centennial of the Fatima apparitions, many rightly lookpon the year with great expectation since the Mother of God brought hope and promises for this world in crisis. It is to her that those searching for solutions should turn. She is the great and only answer. Without her, there is no option.
The author's opinions are his own and don't necessarily reflect the views of Church Militant.