My Benedict Option

The Station

I recently had lunch with a friend, and we discussed The Benedict Option. He asked me, “Isn’t that basically what your house is doing?”

I live in a house that we’ve named “The Station.” It’s a duplex with an upstairs and a downstairs apartment. For almost ten years, the upstairs apartment has been occupied by various women from the University of St. Thomas Catholic Studies program. The downstairs apartment had had a variety of occupants, until I moved in with four Catholic men.

When I moved in, I was close friends with the entire house. Seven of us had lived together as undergrads in the Catholic Studies Rome program. So when we started “The Station,” we had already had four months’ experience living in community together (when I say “living in community,” I mean living in that community; I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “living in community,” only living in communities). And over the next couple of years, the house solidified into a pretty dynamic place to live as a young Catholic. 

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What Language Shall I Borrow to Thank Thee, Dearest Friend?

“Greater love has no man than this: that He lay down his life for His friends.” John 15:13.

Crucifixion

One of the most beautiful of the Good Friday hymns is “O Sacred Head now Wounded.” It is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, but was more likely written by another Cistercian named Arnulf of Leuven (c. 1200–1250). The English translation below was done in 1830 by James Waddel Alexander (1804-1859).

The words of the hymn remind us not only of the depth of Christ’s love, but also that He suffers because of our sins.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43).

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Newman on the Love of Relations and Friends

Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, the first service of the Easter Triduum. On Holy Thursday, we remember Christ’s Last Supper with the Apostles.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another. (John 15:12-17)

Christ came to lay down His life to conquer the power of sin in us, and to enable us to become friends of God. As we approach the Easter Triduum, this sermon from Blessed John Henry Newman on the “Love of Relations and Friends,” originally preached on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, seems a fitting way to reflect on what it really means to love God and to love each other.

Detail from The Last Supper - Carl Heinrich Bloch
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The Benedictine Confessional

The righteousness of the saints in this world consists
more in the forgiveness of sins
than in the perfection of virtues.
—St. Augustine

To my knowledge, I’ve only written about the so-called “Benedict Option”—the subject of Rod Dreher’s new bestselling book—once, and it was after the SCOTUS Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. In that post, I quoted from the Catholic theologian Paul Griffiths:

What the pagans need on this matter [of same-sex marriage] is conversion, not argument; and what the Church ought to do to encourage that is to burnish the practice of marriage by Catholics until its radiance dazzles the pagan eye.

In other words, if anyone is going to be convinced of the Scriptural, traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sex, it’s going to be because of winsome, attractive, beautiful Christian practice of that teaching. The living out of the biblical teaching on marriage is what will be persuasive, when all political and theological arguments seem to be ineffectual. And that viewpoint, it would seem, is what the “Benedict Option,” at its best, is all about. It’s about strategically regrouping and recommitting ourselves to serious discipleship so that the world can see we’re not just interested in “culture warring” but that we’re mainly about living out what we profess to believe.

I still think, two years after Obergefell, this is basically right. But I’ve also been thinking lately, since Dreher’s book has been published and I’ve now had a chance to read it, about a qualification or addendum I’d want to make: When Griffiths talks about Christians’ “burnishing the practice of marriage,” that can’t mean “practicing Christian marriage ‘successfully’ or flawlessly.” It also, and inevitably (given the reality of what the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion call the “remaining corruption” of those who are regenerated in Christ), must mean confessing sin and finding forgiveness and pursuing reconciliation in our marriages.

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Gregory of Nyssa on Friendship with God

Transfiguration of Jesus – Carl Heinrich Bloch

At the conclusion of his treatise on The Life of Moses, Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

These things concerning the perfection of the virtuous life, O Caesarius, man of God, we have briefly written for you, tracing in outline like a pattern of beauty the life of the great Moses, so that each one of us might copy the image of the beauty which has been shown to us by imitating his way of life. What more trustworthy witness of the fact that Moses did attain the perfection which was possible would be found than the divine voice which said to him: “I have known you more than all others” [Exod. 33:17, 12]? It is also shown in the fact that he is named the “friend of God” [33:11] by God himself, and by preferring to perish with all the rest if the Divine One did not through his goodwill forgive their errors, he stayed God’s wrath against the Israelites. God averted judgment so as not to grieve his friend. All such things are a clear testimony and demonstration of the fact that the life of Moses did ascend the highest mount of perfection.

Since the goal of the virtuous way of life was the very thing we have been seeking, and this goal has been found in what we have said, it is time for you, noble friend, to look to that example and, by transferring to your own life what is contemplated through spiritual interpretation of the things spoken literally, to be known by God and to become his friend. This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because, like slaves, we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some businesslike and contractual arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful, and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honor and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life.

Source: Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (pp. 131-132).

Rediscovering Friendship, Alabama-style

I’m in Birmingham, Alabama for the next few days to preach at the Cathedral Church of the Advent and — you guessed it! — to give a talk later tonight on “spiritual friendship.” The good folks over at AL.com were kind enough to let me say something on their website about friendship, and I thought it would be worth sharing here too. An excerpt:

When I move to a new city, as I have had to do four times in the last decade, the question that usually looms largest in my mind is: Will I be able to make new friends here? I’ve been single all of my adult life, and without a spouse or children to help ease my transitions, I rely a lot on friendship, both for the support and comfort I need but also so that I can have a dependable place in my life to give support and comfort to others. Friendship isn’t just an optional luxury for me. It feels more like a calling.

For a while, my passion for finding and cultivating close friendship felt like an uncommon hobby with no blogs or group texts or nerdy conferences where I could go to gush with fellow hobbyists about it. Sometimes it seemed as though I were making things up as I went along, performing a dance of friendship I had to choreograph myself. I knew a lot of people were like me — men consistently report wanting close friendships at the same rates that women say they do — but it also seemed like a secret that none of us wanted to discuss with each other.

But then, being a Christian, I decided to start rummaging through the history of my religious tradition, looking for friendship exemplars — forerunners and models and saints — whose lives and writings might be able to give me guidance for my twenty-first century life…

Read the rest here.

Rod Dreher on LGBT Christians and the Benedict Option

The Benedict Option

Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, is getting a lot of attention these days. We plan to have a full review of the book soon. In the meantime, our readers may appreciate the following excerpt, where Dreher talks about how the Church should respond to singles in general, and LGBT Christians in particular:

“Everyone is searching for love. It’s the most basic human desire. Whether one seeks that love in carnal pleasures, in material possessions, or God, everyone is seeking,” says Brother Evagrius of Norcia. “The monastic life, in a nutshell, is giving up every other pleasure for the love of God. Everything in the monastic life is built around helping you to achieve that.”

A congregation cannot be a monastery, but there is no reason why it should not reach out to hold its single members closer, as members of the church family. As Brother Augustine told me, there are days when he feels exhausted by the rigors of the monastic life—and on those days, he relies on the charity of his brother monks to carry him. Why can’t we serve our unmarried community members in a similar way?

Moreover, if a parish community has the resources, it should consider establishing single-sex group houses for its unmarried members to live in prayerful fellowship as what you might call lay monastics. It is hard to live chastely in a culture as eroticized as ours, especially when there is so little respect for chastity. One expects this from the world, but the church must be different.

All unmarried Christians are called to live celibately, but at least heterosexuals have the possibility of marriage. Gay Christians do not, which makes their struggle even more intense.

Worse, too many gay Christians face rejection from the very people they should be able to count on: the church. The angry vehemence with which many gay activists condemn Christianity is rooted in large part in the cultural memory of rejection and hatred by the church. Christians need to own up to our past in this regard and to repent of it.

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On Gay Loneliness

This Huffington Post article, by Michael Hobbes, on “gay loneliness after gay rights” has been making the rounds. I first saw it when a friend of mine sent me the link last week, and I was truly moved by it. Here’s a taste:

The term researchers use to explain this phenomenon [of disproportionate experiences of depression, loneliness, and suicide among gay men] is “minority stress.” In its most direct form, it’s pretty simple: Being a member of a marginalized group requires extra effort. When you’re the only woman at a business meeting, or the only black guy in your college dorm, you have to think on a level that members of the majority don’t. If you stand up to your boss, or fail to, are you playing into stereotypes of women in the workplace? If you don’t ace a test, will people think it’s because of your race? Even if you don’t experience overt stigma, considering these possibilities takes its toll over time.

For gay people, the effect is magnified by the fact that our minority status is hidden. Not only do we have to do all this extra work and answer all these internal questions when we’re 12, but we also have to do it without being able to talk to our friends or parents about it.

John Pachankis, a stress researcher at Yale, says the real damage gets done in the five or so years between realizing your sexuality and starting to tell other people. Even relatively small stressors in this period have an outsized effect — not because they’re directly traumatic, but because we start to expect them. “No one has to call you queer for you to adjust your behavior to avoid being called that,” Salway says.

James, now a mostly-out 20-year-old, tells me that in seventh grade, when he was a closeted 12-year-old, a female classmate asked him what he thought about another girl. “Well, she looks like a man,” he said, without thinking, “so yeah, maybe I would have sex with her.”

Immediately, he says, he panicked. “I was like, did anyone catch that? Did they tell anyone else I said it that way?”

This is how I spent my adolescence, too: being careful, slipping up, stressing out, overcompensating. Once, at a water park, one of my middle-school friends caught me staring at him as we waited for a slide. “Dude, did you just check me out?” he said. I managed to deflect — something like “Sorry, you’re not my type” — then I spent weeks afterward worried about what he was thinking about me. But he never brought it up. All the bullying took place in my head.

The whole article is worth your attention, and it’s already prompted a lot of conversation in my circles, but I just want to make two brief points that I haven’t seen others making in quite the same way.

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Gay Men and Falling In Love – Part III

In the last few posts in this series on gay men and the phenomenon of falling in love (Part 1, Part 2), we have spent a bit of time framing the conversation well.

We first walked through the theological and philosophical foundations of personhood where we highlighted the positive strivings of humans over against a pathologizing of human desires. Then, we looked at how humans attach to other humans and what security and anxiety looks like within those relationships. In this third and final post, I’m going to bring both of those realities together and contextualize it for the gay celibate community in our current cultural climate.

Hopefully, by the end of this series, we will see a more complex view of what it means to have feelings for another human. We may not have concrete answers but maybe we can begin to ask the right questions.

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“Just Repent”

A Guest Post from Dave at
Gay and Evangelical

There seems to be an assumption that attraction is the same as lust. Feeling attraction for someone of the same gender must be lust, right? In fact, some of these comments from others seem to indicate that they themselves feel that if they (as a straight man, for example) were to feel attraction to a woman that it would undoubtedly be classified as “lust.”

Really? Is that really the sort of men and women which populate the Church? Have we created men and women who have no idea how to understand love apart from sex, affection apart from marriage, and attraction apart from dating?

Close friends in one of my favorite films: David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) Jack Powell (Buddy Rogers) as World War I pilots in WINGS, 1927.

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