In 1983, when I was a high school junior, John Senior released his now classic The Restoration of Christian Culture. Chapter Five is titled “The Spirit of the Rule” and focuses briefly on his visit to Fontgombault. The pilgrimage of this humble professor of humanities left an indelible mark. Senior’s heart yearned to be buried there. The Abbot reminded him that he should be buried next to his wife, and he departed weeping.
Restoration is the work of a keen intellect and his precision in identifying what must be done to renew the world for Christ centers around that phrase the spirit of the Rule. If we choose not to adopt such a spirit, we will languish until someone finally does.
This year, Rod Dreher released The Benedict Option and I cannot but surmise that Senior greatly influenced him to pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, which was reopened in 2000 after being closed by Napoleon in 1810.
What attracted them both to their monastic experiences? Not simply book research, I hope, but to see the Rule in action, and not simply read from the page. Senior went to Fontgombault to fulfill a dream, I think. Dreher perhaps went to Norcia because the completion of The Benedict Option required it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m glad both went and both wrote about it. And while I was moved by Senior’s wish as he departed Fontgombault, my focus tightened on Fr. Cassian’s words which Dreher used to close his third chapter: “Those who don’t do some form of what you’re talking about, they’re not going to make it through what’s coming.”
What is coming is nothing more or less than what has been coming for decades. We now live in a post-Christian America. More than that, we live in a post-moral America. The West, it seems, has disowned it’s past and now cares next to nothing about truth, goodness, or beauty. We live, as Pope Benedict XVI stated so starkly before his elevation to the Papacy, in a dictatorship of relativism. Eternal truth is mocked, individuals are atomized and unmoored from the steady influence of family and community. Authority is always suspect, obedience is shrieked at, and chastity held in derision.
The saddest part is that for our part, we have had our hand on the rudder. We have watched the sails billow and the compass point toward the Bermuda Triangle, and have whistled all the while in the whipping wind.
Now is the time for repentance. Now is the time to fall prostrate before our Lord and cry out with David: Create a clean heart in me, O God…
Then the work can begin.