benedict option,  Catholic Spirituality,  Catholics Do What?,  Culture of Death,  Evangelization,  Family Life,  feast days,  liturgical living

The Franciscan Option

(By Franciscan I’m referring to Franciscan University of Steubenville and not the venerable religious order, about which I know less.)

It looks a little like the Benedict Option, actually. Could also probably be called “The FOCUS option” or “The Christendom Option” or “The TAC option.”

But, in reading the endless criticisms and assessments of Rod Dreher’s book, I’ve had a nagging thought just at the back of my brain that only came to the forefront last night while reading Fr. Dwight Longnecker’s astute take on the matter.

And the thought suddenly crystalized in a laughably obvious realization: we’re already living this.

While I’m not participating in any kind of urban gardening or cow sharing scheme (though one can never predict the future. Okay yes, in this case, one can: I will never raise chickens.) we’ve already made a lot of the choices he outlines, very organically and with little fanfare.

We have a vibrant community of other Catholic families with whom we regularly celebrate the liturgical year, feasting and fasting as the season proscribes. We support each other spiritually, rejoicing over baptisms and new births, and we grieve over losses and illnesses. There is financial support when a job is lost or a medical bill is insurmountable. Childcare offered and received in times of need. There is fellowship and community united not by geographic proximity but by common love and shared belief. So we drive from all over the city and from our vastly different places of employment and we share our lives together, and it looks less like withdrawing form the world and more like building a solid, enduring edifice against worldliness and loneliness and faithlessness.

And it is not insular. This community, organic and widely spread as it is, is constantly welcoming in new members. New families moving in from out of state, singles and just marrieds and those with kids starting college. The common thread is a desire to grow in holiness, to present our children with an attractive and living Catholicism to fall in love with, and a desire to transform the culture from the inside out.

And the other common thread? Many of us, at least in this community of several dozens of families, went to FUS. Most of us are also tied into the life of a religious order founded there and now thriving here in Denver, and are able to partake in the beauty of the liturgical year as lived out by an active/contemplative religious community.

I know of many more communities like ours, sprinkled across the city and the state and around the country. Some are gathered in actual proximity to Catholic colleges; others are bulwarked by a strong alumni presence from one of those schools in cities nationwide. Some are centered around a thriving parish or school, and others are built around places of employment, whether a parish or an apostolate, where a healthy integration of work and faith are encouraged and nourished.

But what none of these communities have in common, at least in my experience, is withdrawal from society. 

Not, at least, in the sense that most BenOp critics seem to mean. In our own community there are those of us who work for the Church or various Catholic apostolates, but there are probably 4 times as many who work in IT. Who are school teachers and physical therapists, nurses and physicians assistants, CPAs and engineers and stay at home moms and photographers and every other occupation in between.

In short, there are families who are living and making a living very much in the world, but who are striving to raise their families and foster their marriages in a way that is not of the world.

My husband and I are a hybrid product of FOCUS, FUS, and the Augustine Institute, a veritable trifecta of Catholic culture shapers in the New Evangelization. And our work and studies in all three cultures was shot through with a common thread: be salt and light. Carry this out into the world. Form and protect and inspire your families to become witnesses to the Gospel.

Be not afraid, but also be not stupid.

This means we don’t send our kids to schools where our values are going to be confounded or our parental authority dismantled by what they hear in the classroom. We don’t accept media carte blanche as a benign or neutral presence in our home. We don’t adhere to the broader culture’s standards for what constitutes appropriate technology use or sexual ethics.

And that’s where Fr. Longnecker’s assessment comes in. That the conversation has already ceased, to a certain extent, and that no further dialogue is possible in terms of changing minds with logic, reasoning, or sound arguments. The only compelling argument we have left is a lived example.

So in that sense there is a “withdrawal,” an opting out even while continuing to live in the midst of. There is no self sustaining monastery and WiFi free zone where we hoe rows of non GMO corn, but neither is there an unchallenged going with the flow of the larger culture of which we are a part.

And if that looks radical, it’s only because the larger culture is deteriorating at a rapid clip and too many parents are ceding their God-given responsibilities to be disciple makers and to become disciples themselves.

And I happen to think that discipleship is at the heart of the message of the Benedict Option.

A call for Christians to arise from our worldly slumber, take a look at the surrounding culture, and have a literal come to Jesus as we realize that we are living in a post Christian era and under an increasingly aggressive threat of secularization, and our response can only and always be love.

We can’t live out that love if we are not first being nourished by His love.

We can’t answer the culture’s questions about the meaning of life without discovering it first for ourselves, and deeply.

And we can’t hope to become effective witnesses for joy if we are not deeply rooted in a faith that is living and active and sustained and, yes, removed from the world around us.

But not for the sake of escape. For the sake of helping others escape.

Not for the sake of insular rejection, but for joyful inclusion.

Not for the sake of fear, but for the great hope we have in Christ.

As Christians we have always been asked by our God to be fools for His sake, to live in the world but not of it. And to let our lives – broken and complicated and imperfect as they are – reflect the beauty of His redemptive love to a broken and weary world.

We don’t reject the culture because it is broken, we beckon the culture into the effervescent freshness of the Gospel.

And we can’t live what we do not first posses.

That is the heart of the Benedict Option, from what I can tell. That the goodness and beauty of the faith is worth persevering precisely so that the doors can be flung open wide, so that something worth possessing can be offered to a world in desperate need.

Find your community. Build your community. And let’s help each other get to Heaven. It’s not enough to ride along on autopilot any more, hoping the ambient culture or the parochial school you’re shelling out for will do the trick. It won’t. It can’t.

We have to fight for our families, for our marriages, and for our own identities in Christ. We have to be willing to do radical, inconvenient and perhaps incomprehensible things, to the outside observer.

It’s time to stop criticizing and and intellectually dissecting the thing and to start living it. Call up a family you know and invite them over for a bbq this weekend. Pray a rosary after dinner and then let the kids play in the backyard while the grownups drink beer around the fire pit and talk theology and philosophy. Find a parent in your circle of friends with a background in sacred music and ask if they’d be willing to give an informal presentation or a performance at a party you organize for your kids and their group of friends. Find a few couples who you trust to discuss the finer points of living out the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage. Agree to meet every other month with wine and dessert, and split up by sexes once in a while to enable more frank discussion. Ask your priest to go hiking with you and group of kids this summer ala Karol Wojtyla, if he can spare a couple hours on a Tuesday. Ask a local seminarian if he can’t.

Do something.

The time is now. Whether or not the Lord returns during our lifetimes or a thousand years from now, we have one job as Christians, and it is to live out the gospel in the circumstances of our actual lives.

We have various options. Failure is not one of them.

Franciscan University


  • Cari

    Love this. Thanks for the kick in the rear to make it happen. I wish so badly I had a community like yours. Guess I need to work to build one!

  • Christine

    Yes! This is exactly the impression I’ve gotten from everything I’ve read about the Benedict Option so far (that is, tons of articles, just not the book itself!). I can’t disagree with any of the ideas….because in fact, it sounds like exactly what I’ve already been doing.

  • Kristy

    I think the main point of the Benedict Option is that we Christians need to be deliberate about living our faith. Reading through the book (and it’s a good one, I highly recommend it!), I realize that my family has been doing a lot of his suggestions. However, there is a lot more we can do to be intentional about being disciples in the current culture. The Benedict Option gives lots of practical advice for doing that.

  • Colleen Martin

    This makes me so happy to have gone to FUS. One thing people say to me as a “concern” about FUS is that it’s just a bubble where college kids live and then they have to come out in the real world. But FUS alumni are creating bubbles everywhere they go, it’s awesome!

  • Katie

    Personally, I thought the Benedict Option was bunk. Wholly disappointed by it. BUT if everyone reading it could come up with this solution, then I would stop being such a snob about it.

    Yes to this post! This is how we live our faith–joyfully, intentionally, in communion with each other, reaching out to the community around us. Not being afraid of big bad ‘culture’, but encountering it with prudence, love, and compassion for people who have not benefitted from an evangelizing community in the way that we have. Amen, sister.

  • Jean C

    What you describe is basically what my husband and I have naturally drifted into over the years. We live in a condo community where we know many of our neighbours, but there is something different about our interactions with those of faith as compared with unbelievers. Whether our faith filled neighbours are of different denominations or religions, there is a comfort level, a trust, a sense of not having to be on guard against attack for our beliefs when we are with them. A world of difference between an unbelieving individual jabbing at us over the latest off-the-cuff remark from OHF or news headline as opposed to a compassionate inquiry for clarification from another.

    Then, too, there is the matter of living a faith based life where our values don’t mesh with non-believers, so that while we may be superficially friendly with them we cannot move beyond that into a deeper friendship because of the absence of that major point of reference in our lives, that being love and service to God. It eventually makes for less material for conversation and less in common.

    It’s worthwhile building relationships within our faith community for all the reasons you cite, and is what our ancestors did either on a larger or smaller scale, depending on the era and locale. Returning to our Christian roots isn’t a step backwards but a leap forward in the Spirit. Loved your “effervescent freshness of the Gospel” reference – made my soul sing!

  • Leigh

    Amen! In truth, every Catholic parish (and school, etc) should embody this spirit… not all, or even most, do these days 🙁

    I see the Benedict Option as a recognition of this sad reality and a call to be more intentional about making these communities ourselves rather than relying on the traditional structures, or simply bemoaning their failures.

  • Ari

    I don’t know how to cultivate this. I have joined our young adult group, we have tried to have outings with other married couples, and yet, I would still say we don’t have a real community like this. Maybe it’s because our parish is huge or the city is even bigger, but where this does not exist – how to cultivate? I agree with all the ideas, and we try to live this way in our family of 2, but otherwise, I’m at a loss.

  • Sarah

    This is perfect! It is starting to happen where I live, in our parish and Catholic community of young families where it hadn’t before. Know why? The arrival of a couple of FUS grads and their gaggle of children, and what they knew to bring and do because of their discipleship at college and beyond. That’s such a formative time. And now we, converts and reverts and cradles of all types and jobs and families, are being changed and formed too because of them. Yay, Jesus!

  • jeanette

    What you describe in this post is actually what the parish as a whole is called to be: a genuine community, not merely a collection of people who come together once a week who happen to believe the same things but don’t really care about the guy in the next pew. Too many people approach their Catholic faith on a kind of auto-pilot, but never engage in the life of their parish. That is a starting place for cultivating what you are describing here. If genuine community is not already present in the parish, then it needs to grow there and it needs people from within the parish to make it grow through reaching out to others within the parish. It also takes multigenerational interactions, not just keeping company with people in one’s own age group or place in life (though that also is a very important thing to do, just not exclusively). The pastor and priests on staff ought to foster this kind of environment, but the laity are responsible to make it flourish.

    A friend of mine at one parish I belonged to was a convert to Catholicism from an evangelical Christian church. She brought her teenaged son to mass and he said that he liked going to mass because when it was over people would leave and not try to talk to you like they did at their evangelical church. Sad commentary on parish life! But it should encourage people to look around and see that there are many people in the parish who are alienated or detached (ourselves included sometimes!). Reach out to them. Don’t know what to say? First, invite the Holy Spirit to help you out. Then, introduce yourself; “Hi! I see you every week, but don’t even know your name. My name is… I’m heading over to the hall for coffee and donuts, care to join me?” If everyone who read your post did this one time this coming Sunday, do you wonder what the effect would be?

    The Vatican II document “Gaudium et Spes” (Pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World), “Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People), and JPII’s “Familiaris Consortio” (The Christian Family in the Modern World) all have something to say about the role of lay people, and particularly families, in the world. We are all called to be leaven in the world through our daily lives and how we communicate the love of Jesus Christ to others. It is not an option, it really is required of us.

  • Laura

    AMEN. I was a bit befuddled in reading strong support of and objections to the BO. What’s the big deal? And now I’m in the middle of the book. It feels overly dramatic to me, and yup: basically it’s living the way Catholics are supposed to. He completely misses the boat, I think, in not giving concrete examples of what we SHOULD do. So it’s up to us. As a young adult, that is insanely hard to figure out. I want community, but I don’t know how to build it. I’m starting by doing the next best step and just doing one thing at a time. It’s hard to be patient in building what I hope to have one day! Your line “The only compelling argument we have left is a lived example.” really resonated with me in this season of life. I’m frustrated with the lack of anything besides bar gatherings for young adults. But my attempts and efforts are important. I want to convince other people I’m right, but living the truth is much more convincing than a Facebook debate. Thanks as always for a thought provoking post!

  • Lorna

    In my heart I want to do this – in my head, I run away before I talk to someone new!

    A whole community of people who share your faith and also socialise!! WOW!! living the dream people – now, how do I get some!!

  • Meg

    Thank you so much! I am sharing this with my own little mom group/support group/”these are my people” group who are all part of the greater FUS circle too! It’s a small world, but not really 😉

  • Jane Duquette

    As a mom who is sending her oldest son off to Franciscan in August, Thanks for writing this. This is what I want for him, not just a college degree but a network of catholics to challenge and encourage him.

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