In their March 2017 Christianity Today did a cover article on the Benedict Option and I was recently in an acquisitions meeting in which the Benedict Option was discussed. So I did some digging into the topic and here is what I found:
The “Benedict Option” means partaking in a communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.
Now I am getting a better sense of why this concept is being discussed with more frequency as our secular society is tending to go more and more off course from traditional Christian values.
Christians are craving a way to get things back on track at least in their own lives and in their own communities of faith, and the Benedict Option is one way Catholics and now many Protestant Christians are moving toward. Many are literally moving to communities that practice Benedictine tenets, while others are simply incorporating the ideas of the Benedict Option into their current faith lives wherever they may be.
The phrase Benedict Option comes from Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1981 book After Virture, referencing Benedict of Nursia (now St. Benedict). Benedict was am Italian monk living from 480-543 A.D. Benedict founded twelve communities for monks in Italy. Benedict’s main achievement is his “Rule of Saint Benedict,” containing precepts for his monks. As a result, his Rule became one of the most influential religious rules in Western Christendom. For this reason, Benedict is often called the founder of western monasticism.
The three vows taken by a Benedictine monk are the vow of obedience, the the vow of stability and the vow of conversion of life.
The vow of obedience is seen by Benedict as a complete abandonment of our own will to the will of the Father. Benedictine monks approached every task, no matter how menial, as a call to participate in the obedience of Jesus, who was fully obedient to his Father, even unto death on a cross. There is a sense in the vow of obedience that what might be considered impossible for us is completely possible with God, and we need to trust in that power and strength in order to accomplish the task set before us. The takeaway for me on this vow is that we should preface everything we do by saying to ourselves, “If the Lord wills, we will do this or that” (James 4:15).
The vow of stability meant to the Benedictine that he would remain in the community where he was for the rest of his life. It is a commitment of love to the community for God’s sake, to be of service to the brothers whom God has brought together in a particular place to perform his work. The takeaway for me from this vow for our lives today is that we should “bloom where we are planted.”
The last vow a Benedictine monk takes is the vow of conversion of life. The vow means to continually strive for conversion in one’s own personal behavior and to faithfully persevere in living the monastic observance as it is lived within the monastery. The monk vows to never become complacent or slothful in his efforts to grow in holiness, or careless or lazy in performing his religious duties in community life. A commitment to poverty and chastity was part of this vow, as well. For me this vow recalls for me this Bible verse: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). We are still a work in progress and we should always keep growing in our faith.
Consider ways in which you can incorporate any or all of these concepts into your faith life today.