Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 18, 2005
Join the creative minority
The feast of St. Benedict on July 11 tends to pass largely unnoticed, another blip in the liturgical calendar. But this year, with a new pope named after the ancient saint, it might be worth our while to dally over this feast.
Pope Benedict has not given a lot of markers so far about the direction his pontificate will take. But surely one sign is in his choice of a name. St. Benedict, even though he was virtually unknown in his own life, had a profound effect on the development of Western monasticism and, through it, on the revitalization of Western civilization.
Our new pope once described the sixth century saint as "a dropout who came from noble Roman society and did something bizarre . . . ." And in his bizarre activity of devoting himself utterly to God by living, at first, a solitary prayerful existence and then by forming monasteries, St. Benedict launched what Pope Benedict called a "silent revolution."
The pope indeed places his hope for the future of Europe in many silent revolutions started by Christians who receive no public attention when they leave society behind to start something that points to a hopeful future.
In that light, St. Benedict is an example. Amazingly, he is not mentioned in any literature written within 50 years of his death. We're not even sure he was the author of the Rule of St. Benedict that provided the shape and structure of medieval monasticism. In any event, the version of the Rule we have today is thought to have been considerably altered from the original.
Yet, while St. Benedict did not start monasticism, he did much to give it its enduring form. His silent revolution revitalized the Western world.
The central virtue in Benedict's Rule is not strengthening the position of Church in society, but rather obedience, silence and humility. And at a time when hard physical labour was linked in the public mind with slavery, he insisted monks do at least five hours of it a day.
None of this seems like a prescription for massive social revitalization. Yet Benedictines developed the agriculture, education, charity, the arts, prayer, liturgy and evangelization of society that were central to the re-emergence of civilization after the Dark Ages.
Pope Benedict has provided a bleak analysis not only of current Western society, but also of the Western Church today. Christians, he has said, "are often weary of their faith and regard it as a very heavy baggage they drag along, but that they aren't really joyful about." The Church also suffers from over-institutionalization and would benefit from less bureaucracy, less structure.
The pope sees the way of the future in a "creative minority" who drop out of "this strange consensus of modern existence" to restore the hope and the joy. But this creative minority does not shy away from engagement with the great issues of our time. "We need precisely a public morality, a morality that knows how to respond to the threats that burden all of our lives."
Christianity is not a spent force politically: Look at the more than 500,000 people in Madrid who demonstrated against same-sex marriage a few weeks ago. But the direction of change is clear. "Before long, it won't be possible to affirm that homosexuality, as the Catholic Church teaches, constitutes an objective disorder in the structuring of human existence," the pope wrote recently.
Our new status as a minority does not mean withdrawing from public culture. But it likely means that the sort of revolution we can create in the West will be a silent one, one quite unlike the sudden political upheavals to Soviet communism that Eastern European Christians did so much to create 16 years ago.
The witness of St. Benedict and the words of Pope Benedict call us to be prayerful, countercultural and possessed of a long-term vision. There is joy today and there is hope for the future.
- Glen Argan
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