Instead, I’m going to talk about a different Benedict. When I first heard the term “Benedict Option,” I thought it was about Pope Benedict XVI. And I thought we were just going to try to save Western Civilization through a revitalization of Catholic Liturgy. IKR?!
The “real” Benedict Option is definitely something different though. Still! That doesn’t mean my first idea was bad! So, I’m going to propose “Benedict Option B.” All you gotta do for this one is read Pope Benedict. Read his books, encyclicals, and articles. Read his homilies. Make Benedict XVI memes. And. Uh. Do what he says. Easy.
So here’s a primer on a few things Pope Benedict wrote:
Deus Caritas Est
Here, Pope Benedict delves into the heart of Catholic life, that is, Love. He contemplates the nature of Eros and how it must be understood in a Christian context to achieve meaning. This is a really important perspective for appreciating Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Aside from these deep theological contemplations, this encyclical also offers practical methods for practicing Charity in the world.
“Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God.”
Caritas in Veritate
Pope Benedict’s social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate confronts economic inequality, global development, and the dangers of unfettered capitalism. As the title implies, Benedict says the key to our response to all problems of all scales must be…”truth in love.” *Movie Trailer voice* If you liked Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, you’re gonna love this wild ride of an encyclical!
“Many people today would claim that they owe nothing to anyone, except to themselves. They are concerned only with their rights, and they often have great difficulty in taking responsibility for their own and other people’s integral development. Hence it is important to call for a renewed reflection on how rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere license.”
This exhortation came out after the Synod on the Eucharist in the early 2000s and expounds on what was discussed there.
“Because the Eucharist does not offer us any mere thing but the very person of Jesus Christ it is to be considered the source and summit of Christian life. The Eucharist is par excellence, the mystery of faith itself because our faith is contained in it.”
An exhortation on scripture as the Word of God. Pope Benedict explains the Catholic understanding of scripture and its use in Sacred Liturgy.
“We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, every man and woman. Everyone today, whether he or she knows it or not, needs this message. May the Lord himself, as in the time of the prophet Amos, raise up in our midst a new hunger and thirst for the word of God. It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received.”
The Spirit of the Liturgy
An incredible book. An incredible achievement. Not just a description of Christian Liturgy or even a history of its development, Pope Benedict delves into the beauty, the nature, and the purpose of our Liturgy. This book was vital to my understanding (however small it may be) of Catholic worship.
“The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events, from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time. . . . The Church does not pray in some kind of mythical omnitemporality. She cannot forsake her roots. She recognizes the true utterance of God precisely in the concreteness of its history, in time and place: to these God ties us, and by these we are all tied together. The diachronic aspect, praying with the Fathers and the apostles, is part of what we mean by rite, but it also includes a local aspect, extending from Jerusalem to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Rites are not, therefore, just the products of inculturation, however much they may have incorporated elements from different cultures. They are forms of the apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition.”
God and the World: A lengthy interview with Peter Seewald in book form. Pope Benedict is as keen and insightful as ever but also candid and, at times, vulnerable. I loved this because of how accessible it was.
Jesus of Nazareth: A wonderful way to see Benedict’s love for Jesus as well as the fascinating way he has encountered Christ. He divides this title into different books that cover different “seasons” of Jesus’ life. You don’t have to start with the infancy narratives but it’s as good a place as any.
Pope Benedict has written much, much more than I’ve described here. But I hope that gets everyone excited for Benedict Option B! Read some stuff. Let’s do this!
Oh! And while you’re here! Interestingly enough, back in a 1964 radio interview, the not yet Pope Benedict XVI gave this description of the future of the Church and it sounds a lot like what people describe when they discuss the Benedict Option:
“From today’s crisis will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal. … It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges. It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. It will be a more spiritual Church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the right one minute and the left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”
Sounds familiar. I mean, it sounds like the how things really are in much of the West. And it also sounds like a setup for a discussion about the Benedict Option. And, similarly to the Benedict Option, Father Ratzinger dismisses attempts to align the Church with left or right politics. He also states that a minority will persevere and so preserve all that the Church has handed down. But he doesn’t propose a withdrawal from public life. Instead, he simply suggests we must make faith central to our lives, our experience as human beings. More on that later…