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The Mission of the Original Benedict Option

St. John Henry Newman poetically describes how “St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way not of science, but of nature. It was a restoration rather than a visitation, correction or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure.

Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing, and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes, and keeping their attention on the page, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that "contended, or cried out," or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again.

And then, when they had in the course of many years gained their peaceful victories, perhaps some new invader came, and with fire and sword undid their slow and persevering toil in an hour. The Hun succeeded to the Goth, the Lombard to the Hun, the Tartar to the Lombard; the Saxon was reclaimed only that the Dane might take his place. Down in the dust lay the labour and civilization of centuries, — Churches, Colleges, Cloisters, Libraries, — and nothing was left to them but to begin all over again; but this they did without grudging, so promptly, cheerfully, and tranquilly, as if it were by some law of nature that the restoration came, and they were like the flowers and shrubs and fruit trees which they reared, and which, when ill-treated, do not take vengeance, or remember evil, but give forth fresh branches, leaves, or blossoms, perhaps in greater profusion, and with richer quality, for the very reason that the old were rudely broken off. If one holy place was desecrated, the monks pitched upon another, and by this time there were rich or powerful men who remembered and loved the past enough to wish to have it restored in the future.

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The spirit of restoration you describe here is a needed antidote to the frantic defensiveness sometimes associated with the BenOp and similar movements. It reminds me of this short essay I wrote for the American Solidarity Party a while ago.

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Well said. The path forward is to be more like a tree, gently but persistently moving forward and reclaiming ground where there is open space to grow and become rooted. The Benedict way, if we Opt for it, is not for us so much as for our great and great-great grandchildren. But if we don’t do it, who will?

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