Tomorrow, July 11, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. The legacy of this great, late fifth-early sixth century saint has inspired many civilizing efforts and movements within the history of the Church.
In contemporary times, the saint’s life and witness has given rise to what some call the “Benedict Option.”
While various scholars debate on what exactly the Benedict Option is or what it should look like, generally the option includes retreating from the world, preserving and nurturing positive aspects of civilization and of the Christian faith, and then eventually approaching the world with moral truth and good culture.
In the exercise of such an option, the Church takes on the image of a remnant, a small chosen body of believers.
While the Benedict Option is a legitimate possibility for believers, is it the Church’s best option right now? Is the Church’s mission in the contemporary world assisted in any way by the imagery of a “remnant”?
The great thing about options is that there should be several of them. So, in addition to the Benedict Option, a “David Option” could also be considered.
The “David Option” would be inspired by the shepherd-king who fought the giant Goliath. In the Old Testament narrative, Goliath was overwhelming, violent, offensive, and an immanent threat to the Israelites.
The young King David did not succumb to fear and did not seclude himself in the Israelite camp. He engaged the Philistine. David was dressed simply, without armor or regular weaponry. He was empowered by a sense of righteousness and justice, and artfully struck the head of Goliath with simple stones from the earth claiming victory over the giant.
David’s actions, ennobled by his innocence and goodness, merited him a moral authority not only in Israel but among the nations.
Drawing from this example of the Israelite leader, the David Option is a challenge and opportunity for the Church in the contemporary world. In imitation of the shepherd-king, it calls the Church to simplicity, having neither ornate, royal attire or defensive armor.
It summons the Church to stay focused on holiness and to engage the world with a genuine spirit of justice and goodness, not ideology, power lust, or political agenda.
Symbolically, the David Option compels the Church to use “stones” in the “head” of the goliaths of our age; namely, to use reason and respectful arguments as a means for the intellectual conversion of culture.
Fideism, heavy theological systems, rash moral judgment, hubris, isolationism, and similar spirits and approaches have no place in the David Option. There is no room for a remnant in this option. It clearly exemplifies the proper place of the Church within the human family, especially when moral truth is questioned and neglected and times seem dark.
In order for the David Option to work when it’s chosen, the Church must intentionally choose to be David, not Goliath. The figures in the biblical narrative cannot be confused.
For example, in the life of the Church, when people seem not to matter, when vice is denounced more than virtue is praised, and moral truth is presented in a way that shames and isolates people, the Church is following Goliath. When institutional loyalty and promotion are rewarded and placed above human dignity and the protection of children and other vulnerable persons, the Church is following Goliath.
When people and the compassionate exercise of the works of mercy are eclipsed within the very institutions created to administer them, the Church is following Goliath. When chancery buildings are more important than homes for unwed mothers, or vestments and church ornamentation are more valued than the poor or the sick, the Church imitates Goliath.
When the Church returns to the David Option, however, it relinquishes its power and no longer seeks mere externals or control in the social order. Privileges and benefits are surrendered, and the Church chooses to trust in humanity’s goodness and takes the risk of honoring its freedom.
The Church, simply and with the confidence of truth, uses reason and goodness to engage the world and fight the dark giants of today. This is a humbling option and one that the Church must seriously consider since biblical wisdom teaches that God rejects the proud, even when they’re right.
When the Church chooses the David Option, therefore, and actively lives it without compromise, God can bless its work. People of good will, no longer the Church’s adversaries, will become friends and collaborators with it.
The Church will see surprising victories over darkness since the David Option respects and appeals to the goodness within all people. And as the Church’s power fades through the David Option, it will regain its place and moral authority among the nations.
This is the task and promise of the David Option. It is the option that most resembles the papal ministry of Pope Francis, and it is an option that the rest of the Church should boldly take up and exercise faithfully.