The Benedict Option

Is it the right thing to do?

For those who are unaware of what this is, here’s a primer:

The New Testament is full of exhortations to “shun” the obstinate sinner. Well, if that is 99% of the culture… Do we have an obligation to take this path? Upon whom does it primarily fall? Parents? Pastors? The Holy Father?

How would/could/should this be accomplished? Dream big, it’s the internet! But this is a serious thing, and of course, runs counter to the predominant mindset of the American Catholic Church and obviously against the ethos of the current Holy Father. But despite the so-called “Francis effect,” numbers continue to drop in the pews and confessionals, at least in the West. No, it’s not all about numbers - which is part of the argument for the Ben Op… We are not exerting tons of resources on trying to evangelize, but we are instead preserving the souls we already have in our grasp, which now is difficult in part precisely because we are splitting resources.

What are we to do? Once again, how obligatory is this and upon whom does that obligation first fall? Or is it WRONG?

Not, IMO, if we take seriously the call of the last three popes* to a New Evangelization.

(* Scare-quoted *“Francis effect” *and all :mad: )


“Both/And” is the Catholic way.

Yes, we need “Benedictine” communities and we also need folks who are out in the culture evangelizing it. I think the only problem would be if we adopted the Benedict Option as the sole or exclusive way of being Catholic. Isolation worked for the Desert Fathers. Their isolation produced the great St. Athanasius, who emerged from the Egyptian desert and was instrumental in defeating Arianism. If St. Anthony had not retreated to the hills, there would have been no Desert community and no St. Athanasius. Meanwhile, there were others who were immersed in the culture doing the daily work of evangelization.

The truth is, I think many Catholics need the safety, security and support of a Benedictine-type community. The overwhelming power of the secular culture is just too much for many people to resist if they are always immersed in it. It is relentless; wears people down. They end up being converted by the culture instead of the other way around.

I envision a Benedict Option community as one where I could raise my kids in a supportive and affirming community, where they would be protected from the relentless pressure of the toxic culture while they learn the faith, learn what love is. And where they would be prepared to go forth into the world with eyes wide open ready to bring the world what they know is true, good and beautiful, because they have experienced it.

I also envision a Benedict Option community as a place to which those of us who are out in the world trying to make the New Evangelization a realtity could retreat for at least temporary respite, to find support, lick our wounds, to recharge our batteries, and to find the mutual affirmation of like-minded people so that we can then go forth again carrying the Good News out into a world that seems to hate it (and us).

I also see the potential that Benedict Option communities could be an incredibly powerful piece of the New Evangelization by serving as examples to the world of how a truly Christian society might look. In my view, such communities would be incredibly attractive to the world. The world might just take notice and say “Hey, look how beautiful this community is; we should be doing this everywhere!” Many people don’t realize that wonderful communities were built up around the great mideival monasteries - because people wanted to be near and partake of what was going on.

So, yes, it is all about the New Evangelization. But maybe, just maybe, the Benedict Option is one aspect of that New Evangelization.

plus one.

I worry most about the children. I just don’t see how they will make it living out in the “world.” We have been very blessed have a great parish; a vibrant Catholic community; we have good Catholic schools. We have done all we can to immerse our kids in the faith. It permeates our lives. Nevertheless, the toxic secular culture assaults them every day. It is pervasive. It never lets up. I almost think it would take truly heroic virtue for a kid to resist it. Kids shouldn’t have to grow up like that. They should not have to be special heroic examples of humanity to avoid having their souls crushed. This, to me, is a strong argument in favor of some type of Benedict Option. Because as things are now, the vast majority of our children are being swallowed up by the culture of death. They are accepting the things that the secular world relentlessly shoves down their throats - from homosexual marriage to gender theory to abortion to euthanasia; the whole ball of wax.

Maybe you have an overly narrow view of the New Evangelization? If we want to create a truly Catholic culture, we have to start somewhere, don’t we? A couple of things to consider:

  1. It is extremely difficult to successfully raise children who grow into strong, faithful Catholic adults if they are immersed in the secular culture. Try as we might to instill the faith and provide a truly Catholic environment for them, the toxic culture is so pervasive, so intrusive, so relentless that (it seems to me) most Catholic parents are losing this battle. Kids need some form of the Benedict Option. Maybe providing them with a community where they can grow up immersed in a truly Catholic culture while being shielded somewhat from the toxic secular culture is actually a form of the New Evangelization (i.e., giving the next generation a fighting chance to emerge into adulthood as real disciples of Jesus Christ and members of his Church).

  2. Maybe Benedictine-type communities would be part of the New Evangelization because of their obvious attractiveness to so many hurting souls. Build something good, true and beautiful. Let people see what a truly Catholic society would look like. “If you build it, they will come.” Might this be the single most effective way to re-evangelize the West?

I just don’t see how the Benedict Option is necessarily opposedto the New Evangelization, as you suggest. We could keep flailing away doing what we’ve been doing for years. And failing.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. I could be mistaken.

Speaking only for myself and my bride, that is why we raised our children in our Catholic home, and not some secular residence.

Could be. But it seems to me, the “Ben Op” communities of old weren’t something quite so planned as spontaneous.

But as I said above: I could be mistaken.


Well, that’s very good. We have tried to do the same. We have 2 solid Catholic young adult children and one who has been sucked into the culture. I suspect that a 2/3 success rate is better than than most achieve. I statistics show that it is more like 1/4. That means for all the little turtles that hatch on the beach only one in four are making it to the surf before being devoured. That is not going to work to re-evangelize the culture.

I’m just saying - maybe it’s too hard? Many parents are not as diligent as you and your wife about transmitting the faith. But also, many parents are beaten down by the culture themselves. Many parents have to work long hours to make ends meet and they cry at night because they can’t afford Catholic schools or because they see their kids being drawn into the delusion. Maybe if they were in a Bendictine community with an atmosphere of faith permeating everything - that is, being of the very essense of the place -then the parents could rely on that to support their efforts. Living “in the world” it just seems like we’re fighting forces that are so strong that the odds of success are very low. Maybe we could change the odds with the Benedict Option?

I am not saying we run and hide and close ourselves off and stop evangelizing. Definitely not. But again, why can’t it be both / and?

The numbers are what they are. Especially in Europe, neither Mass attendance nor participation in the sacrament of reconciliation have improved under Pope Francis. In fact, they have fallen. The “world” loves Pope Francis because they think he is going to change the Church by conforming it to the culture. The German bishops (I am generalizing, of course) made this their explicit project at the synod on the family, and Pope Francis certainly gave them all the rope they wanted to make their case.

The secular world and many Catholics think “mercy” means changing the Church by saying that certain things are no longer sins. I am not saying that they are right, I am sayingn that’s what they are hoping for and that they love him because that’s what they believe he’s doing. This simply has not translated into a wave of conversions or into Catholics taking their faith more seriously. But, it’s early; we should take the long view.

Not everyone has the charisma, intelligence, and holiness of the late Holy Father who coined that term, “new evangelization.” Most people have a large capacity for following well rather than a large capacity for leading well. And that’s not a problem after all, since the best saints are the best followers…

Now, a micro-version of the Benedict Option I would say is the average Catholic home school co-op. Imagine pouring way more money and way more people into such an entity, getting the public support of the local parish and funneling kids into it. Combine it with the sacramental prep. Combine it with youth ministry. Combine it with religious education. Make it ONE BIG THING that everyone can rally around and “live in.” Something like that.


I love it! Home schooling really is our best option, look at all the problems the official catholic schools are having with adult perverts suing over employment discrimination. The home school set up reminds us that the education of children is a primary concern of the sacrament of matrimony, and not something we automatically outsource to a professional teacher. I love the home school movement and definitely support efforts to expand it.

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