On February 17, 2017 the Wall Street Journal printed a story by Ian Lovelett entitled: “Wary of Modern Society, Some Christians Choose a Life Apart.”[i] There is a movement here in the United States that mirrors monastic communities of early Christian times. The actual rules of a Benedictine Monastery are quite exhaustive. However, these families are choosing to set up Christian communities near Monasteries and model life on Christian values absent the temptations of secular life found in American communities.
What are these families seeking in pursuing the Benedictine Option? St. Gregory described St. Benedict this way:
“the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through a balanced pattern of living and praying Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.”[ii]
If you have never escaped to a spiritual retreat that provides solitude and prayer I recommend you read and consider an Ignatian retreat center. An excellent book I have recommended (link below) prior can provide an at home retreat for 8 weeks.[iii] How many of us can pick up, purchase land near a monastery, and find it possible to live the agrarian lifestyle successfully?
We do not need to flee from the United States, from our communities, from other Christian denominations, from Muslims, Jews, Atheist, Progressives, Liberals, and Conservatives. Living in a secular society, if you have not been called to the priesthood or monastic lifestyle, is a calling in and of itself. We live amongst non-believers and fellow believers to perform our calling while simultaneously living our faith as witnesses to Christ.
How do we do that as today’s gospel (February 19, 2017) calls for us to “reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.”[iv] We have been far from flawless in this regard. We have stepped way past reprove to being judge, jury, and hangman on many occasion – thus committing countless sins in the name of Jesus Christ.
Globalization trends, extreme politics, and scarcity of resources are leading people to make superficial decisions. Today a segment of our society driven by Christian evangelization is attempting to codify via civil law our beliefs and to impose them on others rather than “reproving” sinners by preaching our beliefs (our churches and leaders) and living our beliefs as witnesses thru “a balanced pattern of living and praying.” At a high level our policies are not supporting our beliefs and our trust in faith and God’s intimate knowledge of each one of us. If we did we would not have our current President in chief be able to retain the modest popularity he has based on his “wall plans,” anti-immigration plans, lifestyle, and a host of other issues best left unmentioned here.
If we were confident in our faith we would be able to humbly reprove without the insecure need to demonize and attack non-believers. As we have seen time and time again, when we are living the true faith non-believers will rise in insecurity to demonize our actions. We must be prepared to not fall into the trap of committing the same sin.
We do need to reprove our politicians and fellow citizens. I reprove abortion in general (not women) though I do not pretend to know the circumstances (medical, spiritual, psychological, economic, rape) or the depth of God’s mercy and intentions. I reprove our nation’s decision to dismantle health care that helps the poor, to apply indiscriminate and harmful immigration actions for votes, to build a wall when we can be building humanity, and many other systemic injustices. I reprove policy and presidential actions and words that through either active collusion or incompetence continue to promote racism, sexism, and religious intolerance. I reprove our highest public servant directing his energies at serving the wealthy and his associates despite campaigning to do the opposite to help the poor and middle class.
However, at a deeper level, spiritual pursuit starts with me – not with the elected class. Do I know that I am God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in me?[v] How many times have I poisoned by body with alcohol or other acts of gluttony? How many times have I filled my mind with other sins of the spirit (pride, greed, lust, glutton, wrath, and sloth)?
Take a look at Dante’s Inferno archetype descriptions art for each of these trap doors. Or better yet take this fictional test: http://www.4degreez.com/misc/dante-inferno-test.mv
Now, Dante’s work is one of literary imagination- not spiritual or religious dogma. But if you dared take that test – did it get you thinking a little more objectively about your balanced living and pray life?
How many of us put our own desire for status, financial security, power above the needs of people less fortunate than us through the arms of our nation’s wealth and might? To be honest, in the short-term, Donald’s plan may benefit me financially in net pay. However, it is devastating my spiritual beliefs in protecting the vulnerable in our society and the immigrants seeking refuge or already here. Perhaps a 30 day Benedictine Monastic Month would be good for our nation! That not being possible – all change starts with the smallest unit. Me.
However, the family unit is a monastic unit of faith. It is a calling. Within our communities if the family units are living the faith, we will have a society and market that caters to that faith without the need for coercion or mandate. By faith and individual and family action of living the word of God within our own walls we can carry the word of God. And in our communities we can be replenished and supported by the church. How many house hunters prioritize visiting the church before evaluating the schools, transportation, crime rates, and other factors that make communities important to us?
We know these things. That our faith is dependent on our individual lives, family lives, and church being in order. Yet we look to our government, education system, and media to make it easy for us. We expect them to do the hard work while we hypocritically are consuming the very things we rally against. Fleeing to another land will not eliminate the turmoil within our own souls or within our church.
So we find ourselves in a secularised community here in the United States. Internationally people are dying today for their beliefs in Jesus Christ. Our human inclination is fight or flight.
Today’s gospel has some advice on this topic:
“You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.[vi]
The magnitude of seeking perfection in a secular society is the hardest challenge of mankind. It is what we are called to do with humility and steadfastness. We may not be able to escape to a hermitage and probably have not been called to do so. However, nothing wrong with taking refuge for a minute, an hour, a weekend in contemplative prayer when the seven temptations are at the door.
[iv] 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
[v] Corinthians 3:16-23
[vi] Matthew 5: 38 to 48