It all started with the Benedict Option, penned by Rob Dreher.
Soon, however, there was a plethora of other ‘options’ that littered the web: the Dominican Option, the Marian Option, the Kateri Option and the Franciscan Option (the latter of which refers to Franciscan University of Steubenville, not Saint Francis).
Each option vied for airplay. Each one espoused a different element of Catholicism and they were pitted against one another as an argument against the other; pointing out the perceived flaws in the other approaches.
But perhaps there is a better option: a ‘Catholic Option’ which draws on the ideas of all these so-called options, that creates a more blended approach, and which draws on the fullness of two thousand years of practiced and successful Church tradition.
1. Build Community
The Benedict Option* presents community as an integral way to rediscover the beauty of tradition and liturgy and preserve them for future generations as well as providing the necessary stability for Catholics to support each other in their faith journeys.
Building an authentic Catholic community does not necessarily mean that you need to uproot yourself and move to another place altogether. The best communities begin organically, growing out of the desire of like-minded people to congregate and share in each other’s lives.
It might be as simple as the casual invitations to share coffee after Sunday Mass that blossom into friendships between families, sparking prayer groups, mother’s groups or youth groups. Communities grow and adapt to meet the needs of their members.
In many instances all that is needed is a small step forward, an invitation issued in person, and fellowship follows.
2. Withdraw from the Worldly, Not from the World
One of the crucial arguments of the Franciscan Option was to build community but not to withdraw from society so as to become an insular or isolated community. Certainly, create communities of like-minded people, but don’t exclude the company of people outside of your faith-based community. In practice this does seem realistic. After all, the truth is that our circles of friends, families and colleagues usually extend beyond our Catholic communities.
Instead of withdrawing from society altogether and rejecting any community outside of our Catholic one, we should instead be focusing on withdrawing from the worldly influences that are contrary to what we believe. It might be as simple as turning off the television or listening to music that does not feature on the Billboard charts.
This, in itself, will be seen by some as a major sacrifice. For, as an Australian secular media commentator observed last year, television has become the new ‘weather’ of conversation; the common ground for small talk and office banter.
But the truth is, much of the content of commercial television and pop music charts, if not overtly sexualized, has become littered with subversive anti-Christian ideas about life, relationships and morality. It won’t hurt us to consume the world’s media and entertainment with greater prudence.
3. Devoted to Mary
The message of Carrie Gress’ The Marian Option* is simple and profound: devotion to Mary is an integral, not optional, part of Catholicism. This devotion to Our Lady is something that sets us apart as Catholics, and yet one we too often undervalue.
We do not need Gress to outline for us all of the times that Mary’s intercession has saved Catholics for ruin. Some, like the Battle of Lepanto, are legendary. Yet, how often do we take for granted her role as intercessor, or the various Marian apparitions of Lourdes and Fatima?
The truth is, no Catholic Option is complete without devotion and trust in Mary.
Daily Rosary is an obvious place to begin, but there are many other ways that devotion to Mary can be woven into the fabric of life: the recitation of the Angelus – or the Regina Caeli during Eastertide – is a simple but powerful daily prayer to add to your repertoire; planting a Mary garden or grotto in your garden; baking a cake with your children on Mary’s birthday (September 8) or entrusting yourself to her Immaculate Heart.
4. Be In, But Not Of, The World
The Kateri Option, proposed by The Catholic Hipster himself, Tommy Tighe can be summed up by this: doing everything we can to stay holy in a secular world.
Simple but effective.
And, let’s face it, the Catholic Church has a significant arsenal we can put to good use here. We have a Church full of tradition and prayers going back millennia, Doctors of the Church who present the faith eloquently, theologians who help us understand the infinite, saints who lead by example, and Sacraments that keep us on the narrow path. Of course, the list goes on.
We may individually be very different from each other, but with such a wealth of scripture, teaching, tradition and prayer, there are so many resources at our disposal. Really, there’s no excuse not to find ways to enhance our prayer lives and increase in holiness.
5. Share The Fruit Of Prayer
Sharing the fruit of prayer, contemplation and discernment with the world is the central idea of the Dominican Option, succinctly explained by Mark Shea, and is something we can all implement. Historically speaking, this fruit has been most evident through ministries that seek to alleviate the suffering of others.
It can hardly be coincidental that the origins of many hospitals, schools and charities and the like have Catholic roots. These institutions were all founded by people of prayer, some of them later beatified and canonized, who sought and found discernment and answered God’s call in their lives.
We are not, of course, all called to found such organizations but that is not to say that the fruit of our prayer and discernment should not be shared with the world. Perhaps God has called us to a priestly or religious vocation, or perhaps he has called us to ‘bloom where we are planted.’ Regardless, a concerted effort towards prayer, towards relationship with God, will change the way we see and approach the world. It might be that we barely make a ripple on the surface, in our own estimation, but someone else may encounter Christ in us.
6. Be Authentically Catholic
All of these options, and many more besides, are a response to the increasingly secular society in which we live. It is important, however, not to become despondent or defeatist. This very window of time may seem to us to be depressing but we can trust in God’s plans, even if we don’t understand them.
These ‘options’ are all well worth discussing and drawing inspiration from because, at their heart, they are calling us to a more authentic version of Catholicism. Our faith should permeate the very core of our lives. Embedded within each ‘option’ is an urge to be fully Catholic, not just an obligatory Sunday Mass attendee, but a cultural and spiritual Catholic who uses the faith as a moral compass when voting, making important – and not so important – life decisions, when socializing, interacting with our families, and in everything else we do.
A Catholic whose faith permeates every ounce of their being.
In other words, it is an option to be a saint.
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