It often seems that the culture of the United States is headed in a direction that faithful Catholics cannot approve, and this makes them wonder what they should do to face a future that might turn out to be much less hospitable to Catholicism than has been true of the American past.
Some speak of exercising a “Benedict option.” If I understand it correctly, the Benedict option emphasizes the creation of enclaves of genuine Catholicism, somewhat isolated from the larger culture, leaving that larger culture to itself for a while, since it seems totally resistant to what Catholicism has to say. I think the name is derived both from Saint Benedict, the great founder of western monasticism, and from Pope Benedict, who once suggested that the Church might have to grow smaller to remain faithful to its teaching.
It seems to me that the Benedict option is good but not sufficient on its own. In other words, those Catholics who feel called to establish oases of Catholicism somewhat cut off from American culture should not be discouraged from doing so. The faith can only be maintained and passed on if some people dedicate themselves to reflecting on it and living it out in circumstances of relative peace. There is a long Catholic tradition–including monasteries, of course–of getting away from the world to dedicate oneself more perfectly to God. Such activity is bound to bear some good fruit, if undertaken in the right spirit.
At the same time, I don’t see how, realistically, the Benedict option can be an option that excludes political activism for American Catholics. That activism will have to continue, for a couple of reasons.
First, Catholics will have to do what they can to help the larger society as long as they seem to have any chance of success. To take the most obvious example, Catholics cannot responsibly withdraw from politics while there is still some chance of effecting change with regard to abortion. If abortion kills innocent human beings, then Catholic cannot just shrug it off and walk away from the grubby business of politics. They will have to stay involved.
Second, I suspect that political activism will be necessary in defense of the Benedict option. Successfully living the Benedict option requires that the larger culture will leave you alone to do so. There are fairly powerful forces in the culture that would be happy to leave Catholics alone to do so. But there are also fairly powerful forces–forces of fanaticism–that won’t want to leave Catholics alone to live their lives according to their own standards. So the freedom to live the Benedict option is attainable but also in danger.
Accordingly, the Catholic enclaves will have to be defended by Catholic lawyers and political activists.