There is lots of discussion today about the loss of community and how the parishes, even those that seem well attended, don’t seem to be the center or the community any more.
A common response is to look to the monastic model as an antidote. My sense is that the current interest in the much vaunted Benedict Option, in which hope for the West is placed in a Benedictine led spiritual revival is as much about fulfilling a desire for Christian community as it is for the transformation of the culture. Others have painted a picture of the medieval village with its houses clustered around the monastery as the families walk to Vespers in the gothic abbey church.
The disadvantage for such an arrangement can be that the spiritual heart is a religious community which, by its nature, is separated from the rest of the world and therefore also from the lay people who identify themselves as part of the lay extension of that community. This is not an insurmountable problem and there is nothing wrong with this if those involved don’t mind this and if the fruits of it are positive, but given the low number and often the remoteness of monastic communities, even if we put aside the difficulties, it isn’t a realistic option for most until they can retire to rural France…or Oklahoma..or wherever it may be.
I have seen people try to create lay communities of working people and their families by trying to encourage those who join to live a compound of homes where all subscribe to some modified Benedictine rule. The drawback here is that it is difficult to overcome the conflict between the demands of community and of family life – there is often a tension between the two. Some seem to manage it, but others in extreme cases can have a cultish feel to them. Such communities are by necessity strongly heirarchial if they are to avoid falling into anarchy – ultimately someone or a small group of people are in charge over decisions in daily living that effect others – this immediately creates conflict because that community authority or influence will tend interfere with, or even undermine, the natural authority of parents in the family.
Such a conflict rarely arises in parish life because beyond attendance, the parish itself does not impose rules at all beyond what the Church as a whole requires. There is (Read More)