Much is being discussed about the book “The Benedict Option”. It’s author, Rod Dreher, poses that our current culture is so corrupt that we Christian people need to withdraw from it to some form of monastery – a community fortress or societal bunker to separate ourselves from the corrupting influences of this world and its evils. It’s Dreher’s assertion that radical separation was the essence of Benedict’s “option” and it should be ours.
It is interesting to consider that St. Brigid, a contemporary of Benedict some 1600 miles away in Kildare, Ireland, did precisely the opposite and was extremely successful, perhaps even more so than St. Benedict.
Benedict based his idea of community on the Egyptian monastic model of radical separation from the local community and the world in general. The Egyptian monastery was all about personal cultivation and the savings of one’s own soul.
Brigid’s monasteries were different. They were places of sanctuary yet open to all, intensely involved in the lives of the larger community. She practice radical hospitality, not radical separation, welcoming everyone, and the focus of her monestary was replicating the life to be lived in the Kingdom of God.
A Brigid monastery was unique. Not only were they more like villages than fortresses, but all manner of activities and people could be found there: prayer, farming, craft, worship, herding, music, reading, weaving, men, women, children, seminarians, nuns, entire families. It was less like a monestary and more like a “monastic settlement”. Truly, Brigid was trying to create a corner of the kingdom of God in Kildare.
She established a number of them across Ireland, a warrior culture as violent and corrupt as Benedict’s Rome. Yet she persisted, as we like to say today, and she, along with other missioners like Patrick and Columba, converted the entire wild Celtic people of Ireland without the tools of Empire so often employed later on in Western Society. Brigid used friendly persuasion instead.
The 21st century is ripe for another Brigid option, not Benedict’s, for Brigid engaged in the world like Jesus did.
Jesus’ entire ministry was carried out in the streets, fields, temples, and parlors of first-century Palestine, not at a bunker or a fortress. Brigid took her cues from Jesus how to conduct her option and it proved very successful. We can and must do the same.