Rod Dreher has popularized “The Benedict Option” and someone has nudged him with, “Yeh. Rod, but all you’re really saying is that we should…y’know…be good Christians.” I think he did not disagree.
In other words the Benedict Option is not optional. In fact it is so not optional that I’d say the book should have been called “The Benedict Mandatory and Totally Necessary Survival Guide.”
Why? Because Benedict founded his monasteries in the sixth century when the Roman Empire was crumbling into chaos. Society was in meltdown morally, economically, socially and politically. The church too, had fallen into corruption and immorality.
St Benedict gathered up some of the wreckage and built a raft. What he wrote remains vital for our world today where so much is shifting and there is so much bewilderment, confusion and fear–not least in the house of God.
It doesn’t need to be this way. You don’t need to scamper off into some religious sect where you create some sort of nostalgic baroque fantasy religion. Your faith can be grounded. Ordinary and yet full of spiritual power if you follow the way of St Benedict.
That life is built around three vows:: Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life. The three vows are braided together like three strands of a strong rope. This way is formalized for the monk, but the structure is vital for all Christians to grow to maturity in the faith.
Each of the vows has a concrete expression. The vow of stability means the monk promises to remain in one community for life. He commits himself to one family of monks, one place, one set of buildings, one way of life. The whole point is to stop him doing ‘a geographical’. He’s not allowed to run away. Stability teaches us that God is not elsewhere. We’ll find him here. We’ll find him now, or we won’t find him anyhow.
Stability is a rock. By committing to the here and the now, St. Benedict also wants his monks to be spiritually rooted. The Benedictine Way is deeply incarnational. The spiritual realities are always fleshed out in ordinary life and as a result, the ordinary realities are always charged with the grandeur of God.
Because the monk is rooted in a real place and a real time and a real community and a real routine of work, prayer and reading, his inner life also starts to achieve the kind of stability in which growth is possible. Conversely, because his inner life is rooted and grounded he is able to perceive all the minute richness of the ordinary life–which if he were hurrying about–he would most certainly overlook.
Stability is serious, quiet, humble and serene. Stability eschews the remarkable, the phantasmagoical, the stupendous and the charismatic. Stability says, “Stop, Look and Listen.” God is here. Christ is knocking at the door.
The Benedictine monk vows stability, and this means he will stay in one place. He’s not on the move like a friar or a missionary. He can’t be whisked here and there like a diocesan priest. He stays put. That’s why a Benedictine, when asked will not just say, “I’m a Benedictine monk.” but “I’m a monk of Douai” or Downside or St Vincent’s or Solesmes or Quarr or whatever his monastic house happens to be. That’s where he has vowed stability. That’s where God has planted him. That’s where he will either bloom or wither and die.
We lay people don’t take vows of stability as such, but we take other vows that have the demand for stability written into them, and the monk’s vow of stability reminds us that stability is required in our lives too if we are to make any kind of spiritual progress. If we’re married we’ve got a vow of stability. We don’t have to stay in the same three bedroomed rancher in the suburbs for life, but we do have to remain committed to that same wife or husband, those in laws, the same gang of children, nieces and nephews and parents. Families demand stability. Stability is written into our baptism too. As Catholic Christians we’re committed to the Church built on the Rock. We’re not allowed to go scooting around church shopping. We should be committed to our parish too, for better or for worse.
Benedict writes about a certain sort of monk called a ‘gyrovague’. The words sounds like a cross between a gyroscope and a vagrant, and that about sums it up. A ‘gyrovague’ is a restless monk who goes from one monastery to another always looking for what pleases him. Benedict says the gyrovague’s god is his stomach. He’s an immature, restless pleasure seeking sort of person. Benedict condemns him. How often are we just the same church-wise? We run to this parish because the preacher is better or they have a better youth minister or we like the music better or they do the liturgy the way we like it. Church shoppers are like channel hoppers: never satisfied and always bored and always complaining.
Abba Stabilitas says, “Stay put. Don’t be running all over the place looking for happiness. You’re looking for the wrong thing anyway. Look for God. Look for him just where you are at this time, in this place, with these people, and with yourself. If you can’t find him here, you won’t find him anywhere, and if you think you have found him elsewhere, you haven’t. It’s an illusion. It’s a god of your own making, and do you know what a god of your own making is? An idol.
PS: You’ll find more about Benedictine spirituality, points to ponder and cool pictures of monastic life in the archived category “Suburban Hermit.”