Recently, I attending a conference called “The Symposium on Advancing the New Evangelization”, run by my alma mater, Benedictine College. It was the sixth time that it was run and my third time attending, the first time as a non-student. Most likely, if you are reading from a site such as this, you have heard of a book that recently came out called The Benedict Option, written by Rod Dreher. Dreher was one of the keynote speakers and, in my opinion, was a highlight of the conference.
To sum up really quickly what Dreher means by the Benedict Option: We are in a civilization that is becoming anti-Christian if not already anti-Christian. We should not live in such a manner as to think that we are in a Christian friendly environment. Therefore, just as St. Benedict did after the fall of Rome, we should build communities that live very counterculturally in order to preserve our faith and be able to survive through another dark age of Christianity. Most Christians who are culture commentators tend to make similar observations of our culture today, namely, that our culture, at least in the United States, is anti-Christian. It was his focus, though, on the community aspect in order to be better Christians that caught my attention.
Communion as the Solution
There have been many criticisms of his book recently. Some say that Dreher is getting all worked up over nothing and that we do not need to “retreat.” Others have said that he is picking the wrong option and there needs to be a better way. I do not want to get into this argument on this post, just know that it is an option, not the only option.
I think Mr. Dreher hit the nail on the head with his speech. As culture becomes more secularized, we will need to build ourselves up as Christians in order to keep spreading the message of the Gospel to all the ends of the earth. Let us, at the bare minimum for sake of argument, say that the culture is anti-Christian. How could we build ourselves up in order to keep going? The two tools I wish to focus on, which I believe are the main two, are Holy Communion and communion as a Church.
Holy Communion as Source of Christian Life
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a discussion of the different names for the Eucharist. There are eleven different names listed that use to refer to the body and blood of our Lord Transfigured for us to consume. We will focus on Holy Communion. In Paragraph 1331 of the Catechism, Holy Communion is said to be a proper name because “by this sacrament we unite ourselves to Christ, who makes us sharers in his Body and Blood to form a single body.” This is said in reference to 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
In a footnote of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, according to the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition, it reads that participation could be replaced with the word communion. When we receive Holy Communion then, we are participating in the one body of Christ as a distinct part amongst a whole. But notice, the body is still one. For example, even though the hand is distinct from the foot, or the eye distinct from the hair, or the elbow distinct from the fingernails, they are still parts of one thing. The hand is participating with the body and so is in communion with the body. As we receive the Eucharist, we are participating in the body of Christ individually in communion with the body of Christ as a whole. In fact, whenever we are living as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, we are participating in the body of Christ.
The Holy Scriptures are split into two parts: The Old Testament and the New Testament. While testament is a great word, it could be replaced with covenant. This would change the titles to the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant”. What did the Jews have to do to show that they were in the covenant with God during the time while they were in Egypt? Remember, during the plagues, that they were told to put blood upon their doorposts? What were they doing in their house? They had sacrificed a lamb, a pure lamb; then they ate the lamb. This was the action that showed that they were in the covenant. They were part of the people of God. They were in communion with each other. Holy Communion is that New Covenant; when we eat the Eucharist, we are making a covenant with God. Holy Communion in itself brings us into communion, or community, with each other.
Communion in the World But Not of the World.
We remember Jesus said numerous times that we are not supposed to be of this world (e.g. John 17:14-16; John 15:19; John 8:22-24; etc.). Also, many early Church writings speak of being different than what the world looks like; for instance, St. Benedict: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else,” (The Rule of St. Benedict, 4.20-21). Or even in the beginning of the Didache, it says, “For what reward is there, if you love those who love you? Do not also the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy. Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts” (Didache 1.1).
From the beginning of the Church, there has been an understanding that being Christian means living in a way that is countercultural. This can be overwhelming! Being a Christian is difficult; there is a lot of hard work and many persecutions just as Jesus warned us (cf. John 15:20). The second tool we can use is our fellow Christians.
We read on Divine Mercy Sunday, “And they held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The passage continues, “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47). Fellowship in the New American Bible is translated as “communal life.” We see here that it is in their community of believers, and reception of Holy Communion every day that strengthened them for their ministry. They came together to strengthen themselves in order to be able to show the rest of the world the truth of Christ’s resurrection.
Community and Communion
A student came into my office one day and asked, “Are you not worried about the Church being phased out completely? The entire culture is against us. How are we going to survive?” I am not worried about the Church being overcome. However, I also think that this does not mean that we will not be persecuted and almost completely phased out. Jesus did say, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). This is not a fear we should have, but that does not mean we do not do our part in participating in the Cross of Christ.
We need to build strong communities in the parishes across the country whose very life comes from the Eucharist. We need these communities in order to have the strength to call upon Jesus’ name so that the Devil will not overcome us. We need these communities so that we grow in holiness for the salvation of our souls. We need to feed upon the Eucharist with reverence and awe because it is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium § 11). With these tools, we will have the strength to be true disciples of Jesus, and the Church will be stronger than ever in a potential dark age of the Church.