The Benedict Option: What Does It Really Mean?

Taken from Crisis Magazine
by Dr. R. Jared Staudt

The Benedict Option: What Does It Really Mean?

“Seeking his workman in a multitude of people, the Lord calls out to him and lifts his voice again: ‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days?’” (Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict, quoting Psalm 34:14-15).

The Benedict Option—what does it really mean? In my mind, it is quite simple: taking St. Benedict and his Rule as a model for the Christian life within the context of our culture.

The term Benedict Option was coined recently by Rod Dreher. He initially defined it in somewhat negative terms as “pioneering forms of dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values.” It is not surprising to think of St. Benedict in this light, as he himself withdrew in disgust from late fifth century Rome in favor of a cave in Subiaco. However, Benedict did not stay in isolation long, and quickly became an Abbot, gathering large numbers of men to himself.

Dreher points to a “community of Catholic laity” growing around Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma as an example of the Benedict Option. It is important to note, however, that there is not a formal lay community there. People simply want to live near the monastery, many have become oblates and participate in the liturgical life of the monastery, and they live in friendship and fellowship with one another.

Continue reading at Crisis Magazine

Don’t Complain About Blessings

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

Don’t Complain About Blessings

March 23, 2014

Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 17:3-7


Complaining comes naturally to most of us. Even if our circumstances improve, they could always be better, so we can find something to complain about. The ancient Israelites felt the same way. After God delivered them from Egypt with powerful, miraculous interventions, and after they had crossed the Red Sea and received the manna from heaven, they still find something to complain about: thirst.

Grumbling vs. Gratitude

You would think that a group of people just delivered from hundreds of years of slavery and hardship would have a lot to be grateful for. After God shows up in power and frees his people from the oppressive yoke of Pharaoh, you would think that their songs of joy and thankfulness would last longer than a moment. But gratitude is harder to cultivate than grumbling. As soon as the people feel a need—this time, for water—they confront their leader with complaints. It reminds me of a time I was going on a high school trip. The travel agent arranging the trip told us not to complain during our travels because “it makes the trip miserable for everyone—the one complaining and the ones listening to the complaining.”

The Israelites should have been constantly reflecting on their divine deliverance in an attitude of humble, grateful joy, but they give in to what is easier—to allow the inconvenient present to overshadow the glorious past. This kind of grumbling places all the emphasis on the here-and-now and loses sight of the bigger picture, the more important story, the great things that God is doing for his people. So complaining is an intellectual mistake, if you will. It emphasizes one thing, the present, at the expense of another, the past. It overplays the significance of “how I feel right now” versus the larger picture of life. Gratitude, the opposite of grumbling, embraces a truer version of the story. That is, gratitude focuses on the important theme, the hope-filled trajectory of the story, which encompasses past, present and future, rather than myopically zeroing-in on the present. Gratitude requires an outward focus on the larger truth, while grumbling embodies an inward-turning, selfish approach centered on the now.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange


"Walking with Mary" by Edward Sri to be released in the Fall

Taken from ImageCatholicBooks.com

Mary appears only a few times in the Bible, but those few passages come at crucial moments. Catholics believe that Mary is the ever-virgin Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven and Earth. But she also was a human being–a woman who made a journey of faith through various trials and uncertainties and endured her share of suffering. Even with her unique graces and vocation, Mary remains a woman we can relate to and from whom we have much to learn.

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7 Points on Sunday’s Reading from Isaiah

Taken from Catholic Exchange
by Dr. Mark Giszczak

7 Points on Sunday’s Reading from Isaiah

January 26, 2014

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 8:23–9:3

This Sunday’s Old Testament reading contains some real gems of biblical revelation, with important connections back to Israel’s history and forward to the New Testament fulfillments. Here are the seven key points:

1. Zebulun and Naphtali

Zebulun and Naphtali are two tribes of Israel, whose tribal lands were in the far north of Israel. They were “degraded” and “the people who dwelt in darkness,” because their land was the first to be permanently conquered by foreign powers. In 734-32 BC, Tiglath-Pilesar led a campaign against Syria and Israel, conquering Damascus and the northern reaches of Israel. From that time on, the two tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were under the darkness and gloom of foreign domination. Later, of course, all of Israel and Judah comes under the oppressive yokes of Assyria, then Babylon, then Persia.

2. The “Way of the Sea”

The “way of the sea” is a road. Scholars are divided over whether this term names a road that goes along the Mediterranean or the road that goes from Israel to Damascus. The more traditional view points to the road that leads to Damascus, which will be an important point for the New Testament fulfillment of this passage that I’ll discuss below.

3. God judges, but he also delivers

It is true that the Assyrians conquered Israel, but the prophet Isaiah explains that it was the Lord himself who “degraded” Zebulun and Naphtali. Just as it is explained in 2 Kings 17, here the Lord is the agent of judgment, merely using the foreign powers as tools for his purposes. The conquest of Israel came about “because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God” (2 Kings 17:7 NAB). The Lord punishes them for their unfaithfulness to his covenant with them (2 Kings 17:15), but he will also be the one to deliver them. Isaiah announces that no longer will Israel walk in darkness and gloom, but the light has dawned, bringing deliverance. In Isaiah 9:3, the last verse of our reading, Isaiah depicts the Lord as smashing the “rod of their taskmaster.” He will come to free his people from servitude.

4. The Day of Midian

The “day of Midian” is invoked in Isaiah 9:3 as an example of the Lord’s power to save. This “day” refers to Gideon’s battle with the Midianites in Judges 7–8, when the Lord helps Gideon and his 300 soldiers conquer a vast army. The victory came only by God’s power, not by human ingenuity. Isaiah forecasts that Israel’s ultimate deliverance will come about in the same way.

Continue reading at Catholic Exchange.

A Graced Bewilderment: The Dark Night of Blessed Mother Teresa

Fr. Paul Murray

In this intimate look at Mother Teresa's "private writings," Fr. Paul Murray, O.P. illumines the meaning of a life which is only now beginning to be understood. This very personal yet powerful presentation aims to come to terms with the dark night experiences endured by Mother Teresa in the light of the Gospel and the mystical teachings of St John of the Cross. And something else as well...revelations of Mother Teresa's sense of humor.


A Lesson in Three Conversions

Taken from CrisisMagazine.com
by Christopher O. Blum

The Year of Faith began with a challenge from the Holy Father Emeritus: “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or that light be kept hidden.” During this last intense year of renewal, Catholics have been reminded again and again that our age calls for vigilance. For the embers of Western Civilization glow but dimly now, and the “profound crisis of faith” identified by Benedict XVI can hardly be ignored. Today, perhaps more than ever, we need the freshness and clear conviction of converts to the Faith.

As the prolific Catholic historian Henri Daniel-Rops once noted, France lived through a spiritual crisis of her own in the seventeenth century, and while the long-term result of that crisis was—for all practical purposes—the death of a once-great Catholic civilization, the age also witnessed dozens of inspiring conversions. “It would be impossible,” wrote Daniel-Rops, “to compile a list of all the converts” of the age. Among the most illustrious of them were Jean Racine, Blaise Pascal, and Louise de la Vallière. All three were raised Catholic, went astray for a season, and as adults returned to the Father’s house with hearts brimming over with the love of God.

The fall from grace of Louise de la Vallière has a horrid, contemporary feel to it. Her idyllic childhood was rudely cut short by the death of her father when she had just gained the age of reason. Her mother remarried a man of rank who took the family to the royal court. The lovely Louise was only seventeen when she there caught the eye of the great. “Very pretty, very sweet, and very naïve,” was the impression she gave to one lady of the court; she was, therefore, perfect for a scheme by which the young king’s unsuitable regard for his brother’s wife could be shielded from view. The plan was for the young Louise to receive Louis XIV’s overt advances so that his pursuit of his cousin and sister-in-law the Princess could continue in secret. But passions unbridled will take their fatal course, and her virtue was soon compromised; she would eventually bear the king four children.

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A Liberationist Pope

Taken from Homiletic and Pastoral Review
by Dr. Michel Therrien

A Liberationist Pope

Read carefully: We should see in this critique (by Pope Francis), not an embrace of socialism, or a condemnation of the market economy, but a call to adopt a different ethic for the marketplace.

Pope Francis is a Jesuit, a prelate from the southern hemisphere and, of course, we all know what that means: he is, almost by default, opposed to the market, business, and entrepreneurship. He is, no doubt, an advocate of some species of socialism. In fact, a conservative’s worst fears are now vindicated by the Pope’s recent critique of “trickle-down” economics, “the absolute autonomy of the market and financial speculation,” and the “idolatry of money” amidst a “globalization of indifference,” which is guided by an “invisible hand” we can “no longer trust.” Clearly, we are experiencing a shift in Rome’s stance toward capitalism; something is taking shape that looks analogous to the liberation theology the previous two pontiffs have exiled. With such strong sympathies toward the poor, and a striking condemnation of the market economy, will there be a place in the Church, during this pontificate, for the businessman or the wealthy?

Such have been the reactions of some to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. Of particular concern has been what some perceive as a failure to distinguish between the U.S. experience of the market economy, and that of his native Argentina. Despite the legitimate reservations this pope elicits among those, such as myself, who appreciate the more nuanced teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, his remarks invite a serious and thoughtful consideration. Before I proceed any further, however, I would like to preface this essay by acknowledging that what Francis says in regard to the economic order needs future clarification.

In what follows, I would like to unpack the Pope’s remarks on the market economy in Evangelii Gaudium, and analyze them within the context of the New Evangelization to which the document is dedicated. I will argue for three points: that we can best understand the Pope’s remarks within the context of his stated purpose for the document; that he is not departing substantively from previous social teaching on the market economy, but offering a radical critique of certain moral failures prevalent in the global economy; and that he is not recommending a socialist solution to the problem of poverty.

Continue reading at Homiletic and Pastoral Review

A Life Hidden in God

Recorded by Dr. Christopher Blum

A Life Hidden in God

Listen to an audio recording of a sample chapter from Bossuet's Meditations for Lent (Sophia Institute Press), newly edited and translated by Augustine Institute Dean Christopher Blum. The meditation is entitled "A Life Hidden in God."


A little lower ... but only for a time

taken from PittsburghCatholic.org
by Dr. Michel Therrien

Respect Life Month affords us a splendid opportunity to reflect deeply for the coming weeks on human dignity. We hear the church speak much on this theme, and yet I’m not so sure we always grasp the full depth of her meaning. It’s not merely that human beings have rights, and that we should respect them, although this is critical. It’s that human dignity (rather, the human person) is a deep and profound mystery of divine love. Indeed, personhood is a sacred mystery, one we are called to esteem and love as we encounter it in God, in ourselves and in others.

We are able to grasp the depth of this mystery when we consider the vocation of personhood itself, a calling to the communion of love fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, the supreme vocation to love that serves as the foundation for all the church’s teaching on morality and social life, including abortion and euthanasia, marriage and sexuality, war and even ecology.

Is it not Christ himself who tells us that the whole of the moral law is summed up in the two-fold commandment to love? We are, quite simply, called to loving communion with each other. This vocation, inscribed into our very being, is our dignity.

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A Reflection on Typhoon Haiyan - Dr. Michel Therrien

A Reflection on Typhoon Haiyan - Dr. Michel Therrien from Augustine Institute on Vimeo.

The recent devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan has caused many to ask the question, "How can you believe in a loving God when there is such destruction and suffering in the world?" In this short reflection, Dr. Michel Therrien comments on how we can respond to our neighbors in times of trial.

Catholic Relief Services is accepting donations to help in recovery of the Philippines: CRS.org


Advent's Fierce Peace

Taken from Catholic Exchange
By Dr. Mark Giszczak

Advent's Fierce Peace

Every year during Advent, we hear about the “stump of Jesse” and the lion laying down with the lamb, but what does all of this mean? It is easy for biblical prophecies to sound like nice religious language with poetic flourish, but little meat on the bones. However, prophecies like this one from Isaiah 11 are essential our understanding of who Jesus is and what kind of victory he wins by his coming into the world. He is not just a nice religious teacher, but the king who brings justice for the poor and strikes the wicked with “the rod of his mouth.” His coming is a fierce arrival of judgment and the blossoming of a new era of hope and salvation. He conquers injustice and brings us into an age of perfect peace.

We have a lot more to look forward to at Christmas than a bunch of presents under the tree. The Baby of Bethlehem is not just cute and cuddly, but he comes to establish his reign over the universe, and most especially in our very hearts. Isaiah 11 offers us another glimpse into what the reign of this coming Messiah will look like—how it can and will transform us from the inside out if only we open our hearts to the child in the manger.

Continue to full article at Catholic Exchange.

Advent: Fostering Expectation

Taken from Catholic Exchange
By Dr. Jared Staudt

Advent: Fostering Expectation

The Catholic tradition generally extends the celebration of a major Feast long after the principal day. For Christmas this entails an Octave, the traditional 12 days, and even a Season. The period before a major feast is one of preparation, generally penitential in nature. Traditionally the Vigil of major feasts has been a day of abstinence and fasting (including Christmas Eve). Although some questions have emerged recently, there is no doubt that Advent began as a penitential period, originally a fast modeled after Lent. We can see its penitential nature liturgically in the absence of the Gloria and through the use of purple vestments. Advent is clearly a time of expectation, a looking forward to the coming of Christ, both at his birth and at his coming again.

The ever morphing secular celebration of Christmas, however, has created a pre-Christmas season, one in which the celebration begins far in advance. It has even become common for Catholic parishes and schools to have pre-Christmas parties, full of treats and Christmas carols. As this trend becomes more and more common, it is important for Catholics to be deliberate about keeping Advent as a distinct season, one of expectation and preparation, not of celebration. I will seek to provide a few suggestions for how this can be done.

Continue to the full article at CatholicExchange.com.

AI Alumni Series: 10 Lessons from My Mom on How to be a Great Mother

Taken from IntegratedCatholicLife.org
by Katie Peterson Warner

Augustine Institute alumni continue to make their mark in the Catholic world and the New Evangelization.

Just a few short months ago, I became a mother, and now I am just months away from meeting my little one on his birthday in December. The blessings multiply as pregnancy continues—with every little kick and each ultrasound picture of my little boy sucking his thumb or smiling big (just like his mama) in the womb, I thank God for the opportunity to share in new life.

It is amazing how much my pregnancy has given me pause for reflection on my relationship with my own mother, and on the qualities that make her the most remarkable role model in my life. I can honestly say that my mother is the most saintly person I know — an unmatched giving, loving, patient, faithful, prayerful woman who knows her life’s work is to be a wife and mother, and boy does she live out her vocation well.

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Anger, Vice & Virtue

Taken from To Keep and to Ponder
by Dr. Edward Sri

Anger, Vice & Virtue

For some readers of the Gospels, Jesus might appear to be offering two contradictory messages about anger.

On one hand, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus compares the punishment for anger with the judgment facing murderers: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (Matt. 6:21-22).

Yet in Jerusalem, He himself seems quite angry at the Pharisees as he pronounces a series of woes on them, even calling them children of hell: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (Matt 23:15).

What are we to make of these apparently conflicting passages about anger?

Crime and Punishment

Anger is a desire to punish. As a passion, anger itself is neither good nor evil (see CCC, 1767). Anger can be noble if it is directed toward maintaining justice and correcting vice (CCC, 2303). In this case, it is not so much about getting even with the person who hurt us, but about seeking the good of the community and even the good of the person being punished.

This seems to be the kind of anger Jesus has in his confrontation with the Pharisees in Jerusalem. It is his last showdown with his chief opponents who have rejected him as messiah and are about to bring him to his death. In order to show very clearly how dire their situation is, Jesus—out of great love for the Pharisees—sternly warns them of the deadly path they are pursuing. If they persist in their rejection of the Son of God, they will be closing themselves out of the very kingdom Jesus wants to offer to them, and they will lead many of their followers with them. If Jesus did not truly love the Pharisees, he would not warn them of the eternal punishment toward which they are heading. Jesus’ anger, thus, is rooted in love—in desiring what is best for them—as he hopes this clear warning might lead some of them to repent.

Being angry about the right things and in the right way is virtuous. But avoiding anger at all times may be a sign of weakness. St. Thomas Aquinas notes how it is a vice not get angry over things one should. He calls it “unreasonable patience.” A failure to seek punishment of the unjust encourages the wicked to persist in their evil deeds, since there are no reprimands for their actions. It also causes confusion in the community over what is truly right and wrong, and thus may lead even good people to do evil.

Continue reading at To Keep and to Ponder

ANNOUNCING: January 2014 Intensive Courses

ANNOUNCING:  January 2014 Intensive Courses

In observance of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, the Augustine Institute is offering three special courses during the week of January 6-10, 2014.

The New Evangelization in the Life of the Church

Guest professor Dr. Ralph Martin, of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, brings four decades of experience as a leader of Christian renewal to a course on The New Evangelization in the Life of the Church. Together with our own Dr. Edward Sri, Professor Martin will be providing a state-of-the-question overview of the tasks and challenges of evangelization in our day.

The Challenges of Secularism

Augustine Institute Academic Dean Dr. Christopher Blum and fellow-professor Dr. Jared Staudt will be teaching a seminar on The Challenges of Secularism, in which students will consider the origins and nature of contemporary secularism and take a close look at the deformation of our souls threatened by secular habits.

The History and Theology of Christian Discipleship

The History and Theology of Christian Discipleship will be taught by Institute President Dr. Tim Gray and YDisciple founder and director Mr. Jim Beckman. In this course, students will gain a blueprint for discipleship rooted in Biblical practices and nourished by the lived experience of the Church.

The courses may be taken for credit or audited.

For more information, contact the Institute’s Registrar, Kristi Logan: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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