-more Eastern Province Dominicans who reside at the House of Studies, Wash, DC, please click on image for greater detail.
-by C.C. Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at Catholic University of America.
“Recently I attended a seminar on religious liberty at Villanova School of Law. I wanted to learn how the law could help protect the Church as we advance into increasingly difficult cultural waters. Instead, the legal eagles offered a much more pessimistic prognosis: legal protections are eroding fast, and law follows culture, so don’t count on the law to protect the Church for long. While I did not walk away entirely hopeless about what the law can do to protect the Church, it did heighten my sense that we are rapidly running out of options. Christians can no longer rely on a cultural consensus and its legal expression in favor of religious belief, especially religious belief that insists on having a place in the public square. After meeting with the lawyers, I had to ask: Now what?
I thought about this question when reading Dale Coulter and Bianca Czaderna’s responses to my “The Dominican Option.” For a number of years I have followed Alasdair MacIntyre and his famous call for “a very different St. Benedict.” As a result, I have often heard MacIntyre’s vision described as “an ethic of withdrawal.” It’s an old canard. It’s not true. But there you have it. I’ve heard it over and over again, not only about the Catholic MacIntyre, but also about Lutherans like George Lindbeck, who embraced a “sociologically sectarian” view of Christian community, and most frequently about the Methodist Stanley Hauerwas. To get beyond these tired disputes about withdrawal and cultural engagement, I proposed the ancient Vita Mixta that St. Augustine recommended: evangelistic witness flowing from cloistered monastic formation. Perhaps the most controversial thing about this was that I suggested that the Dominicans offer us the most visible image of this mixed pattern today.
Dale Coulter responded that the “Options for Cultural Engagement” were much wider than the Benedictine or Dominican options allowed, and he rightly pointed to the diversity of the Body of Christ. Building on Coulter’s critique, Bianca Czaderna argued that there were “Lots of Options,” so many options that even to suggest one “paradigmatic example” was a useless and invidious enterprise. These critiques would have been spot-on if I had argued that the Dominicans provide the one way of being the Body of Christ in the world. But I did not make such a claim. My point in arguing for the Dominican Option was not to pit religious orders against one another, but to raise up a visible model to help us to think about how lay Christians (Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic) can meet the new challenges for Christian witness in America by committing ourselves to a more intensive formation ordered to the conversion of souls that make up American culture.
Christians do indeed have “lots of options” for living as the Body of Christ. But the culture is giving us a rather different set of options: accommodate or it’ll cost you. Our current legal-cultural regime is effectively saying: “Those are nice stained windows you have there; It’d be a shame if anything happened to them.” That threat is a prelude to a cultural concordat, and many Christians will be all too eager to be accommodating in order to be accepted.
Our families are going to need to live according to a rule if we are to endure—very much as religious orders do—with daily habits of prayer, confession, adoration, ingesting the Scriptures, emulating the great saints, learning to think with the doctors of the Church. We will need to find ourselves more habitually engaged in works of charity and mercy, corporal and spiritual. The words of St. Catherine of Siena OP come to mind: “If you are what you should be, you will set all of Italy (the world) ablaze.”
The Dominican Option is meant to challenge us to double down on communal formation, and double up on our missionary endeavor. It’s precisely this mixed pattern of life that must be wholly devoted to forming saints, and must also preach in the public square, in word and deed, about the charity and truth which lead souls to Christ. That’s really our only option.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom