May 5, 2017

Archdiocesan Catholics embrace principles advocated by author

By Sean Gallagher

In his book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (Sentinel, 2017), best-selling author Rod Dreher recommends believers to adopt the spiritual principles of the sixth-century St. Benedict to maintain the faith and pass it on effectively to the next generation in the midst of a Western culture that he sees as increasingly hostile to Christianity.

(Related story: Two authors call on Christians to be witnesses within a Western culture that is becoming more secular)

St. Benedict abandoned his studies in Rome because of the moral corruption he found in the city, and went to live as a hermit in the Italian wilderness.

He later founded a series of monasteries and wrote his Rule that guided their lives and the Benedictine monasteries founded after his death that did much to preserve classical Greek and Roman culture and the spiritual heritage of the early Church as the western Roman Empire fell apart in the fifth and sixth centuries.

Although Dreher’s book has garnered much attention since its release in March in both the popular culture and within the Church, his holding up of Benedict as an example is not new.

More recently, a slowly growing group of Catholic families in central Indiana has taken up another of Dreher’s recommendations: founding a Catholic school that follows a classical model of education, integrating subjects together and emphasizing the Catholic faith in all of them.

Lay Catholics in central and southern Indiana and beyond have sought to follow the teachings of St. Benedict for 100 years. Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad began accepting lay Catholic men and women living in the world as “oblates” in 1917.

Benedictine oblates are similar to third order Franciscans, Dominicans and Carmelites. They dedicate themselves to living out such Benedictine principles as a sacramental view of the world, the integration of prayer and work, community and hospitality in the world, and have a spiritual relationship with a particular monastic community.

Janis Dopp, a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, is preparing to begin service in July as Saint Meinrad’s first lay oblate director. She has been an oblate since 1992.

According to Dopp, Saint Meinrad has about 1,350 oblates, with 300 of them in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. No other Benedictine monastery in the world has as many oblates as Saint Meinrad, she said.

They are organized into groups of “chapters.” There are two in the archdiocese—one in Bloomington and one in Indianapolis.

Dopp said that oblates try to form the kind of tight-knit communities of faith that Dreher recommends in his book.

“I know that members of our chapter [in Bloomington] are struggling with a spouse that has dementia,” she said. “I know that there is a woman who is young and has the onset of Alzheimer’s. I know that there are people who might be in need financially.

“You understand where people are in your chapter, and you take it to heart. We care about each other and have a connection that goes deeper.”

This deliberate effort to nurture deep bonds among believers is, for Dreher and Dopp, a countercultural move in today’s increasingly atomized society.

“At a time when technology is forcing us into ever deeper levels of isolation,” Dopp said, “it is sort of a countercultural, revolutionary stance to take, to say, ‘No. I’m not going to live my life in a virtual reality. I’m going to live my life with the people that I pray with and hold the same values that I hold.’ ”

Dopp also said that in her life as an oblate, she seeks to express the Benedictine principle of hospitality by regularly welcoming her neighbors and other friends into her home—another practice that Dreher calls Christians to take up more consciously today.

“I want to be a hospitable person,” Dopp said. “Within the context of my hospitality, I’m living out what Benedictine spirituality can look like and can be beneficial to everyone around me.”

At the same time, she recognizes the challenge faced by the relatively small group of oblates in the broader secular culture.

“The raw material that we’re up against as far as the culture is concerned seems insurmountable,” Dopp said. “But you have to work with what you have. Jesus only had 12 Apostles. Small numbers can be very powerful in the long run.”

Small numbers is valued by the families who enroll their children at Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis, a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade independent school with an enrollment of 85 students. (Full disclosure: The writer of this article has three children enrolled at Lumen Christi.)

When it was founded in 2002, then-Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein gave school organizers permission to call it a Catholic school. For the past 13 years, it has been located on the campus of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis.

Jason Adams, Lumen Christi’s headmaster, said the school’s maximum class size of 15 is designed to allow teachers to get to know their students well and do in-depth study of their subjects, often including rigorous writing assignments and reading primary sources instead of textbooks.

The small size of the school also helps the teachers and students to take a classical approach to education, integrating the study of all subjects in a deliberately Catholic milieu that values the great works of Greek, Roman and later European writers and artists.

“We want truth, beauty and goodness to be accessible in everything we study,” Adams said. “When we study history, science or music, it’s totally appropriate to incorporate a novel, biography or a primary source. We want the students to actively engage these perennial sources that formed Western culture.”

Dreher placed great importance on the role of education in the future of Catholics and other Christians in the U.S. He specifically recommended that believers consider starting classically-oriented schools deeply imbued in the faith, and that seek to introduce students to the great works of Western culture.

At Lumen Christi, this includes the study of Latin, in age-appropriate ways, at all grade levels. Students also begin each school day with Mass.

“That’s huge,” Adams said. “It’s the one, clear non-negotiable that’s been here from day one.”

The mission of Lumen Christi, Adams noted, is to form students well as humans and Catholics so that they can be saints and help others in the broader culture be the same.

“I want them to be thoughtful people whose habits of seeing truth, beauty and goodness in everything causes them to pursue it in their college courses, in their career choices, in how they relate to co-workers, in their personal relationships,” Adams said. “It’s teaching them how to be joyful people abiding in God’s love in everything they do. It’s the salt and light idea that we’re to transform the world.”
 

(For more information on the Benedictine oblates of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, visit www.saintmeinrad.org/oblates. For more information about Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis, visit www.lumenchristischool.org.) †

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