This essay attempts to supplement the Benedict Option with the writings of Benedictine priest and liturgist Virgil Michel: How Can Catholicism’s Truth Be Known if Believers Build Walls Around Themselves? by John Sikorski
Michel emphasizes that charity and the liturgy should transform the world. But how is this to be done? There are insufficient details in the essay.
How did Michel envision the spirit of Christian justice and charity, sustained in the mystical body’s corporate act of worship, to be applied in “modern practical life”? Rather than taking an institutional or structural approach, as did other Catholic social ethicists of the twentieth century, such as Msgr. John Ryan (1869-1945) and Fr. Charles Coughlin (1891-1879), Michel begins with the liturgically-formed person, who while a member of civil society, is also first a member of the Church, and exists subject to the different orders (ecclesial, political, social, domestic) in the one providential ordering of God. Indeed, given his influence on Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and the Catholic Worker movement, which certainly espoused a vision of social renewal based on the personalist philosophy of Peter Maurin (1877-1949), and Michel’s influence on other social reformers and friends such as Baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896-1985), one might argue that Michel’s approach is anti-institutional. If he was amenable to institutional reform, it would be a form of solidarism or corporatism, perhaps such as that articulated by Heinrich Pesch, SJ (1854-1926) and the German school of Catholic social thought, or the vision of the Central Catholic Verein in Saint Louis, which drew upon the German school.
Is there really one order as he and other Catholics believe? Or is the state something new to the experience of the Church? What assumptions from the disorder caused by the industrial capitalist state have been assumed? In same ways Michel can be seen as a proto-feminist and SJW, and St. John's Abbey can be said to be following in his footsteps.
Michel argues that such families and parishes can be citadels of Christian culture radiating into their neighborhoods, ones in which the liturgical life extended into daily life forms the center of social, cultural, spiritual, educational, and recreational life. Practically, Michel argues that these roles find concrete expression in the “works of mercy administered to the needy and the poor,” since we have “at times been guilty, all of us, of an . . . alienation of the toiling masses.”
This may be the ideal, but how much of it is practiced today, or even practicable, given the real divisions that exist in identity and viewpoint?
He criticized some Catholic thinkers as having “lived entirely in the past,” and who easily dismissed non-Catholic thought and labeled it as “pantheistic, idealistic, hedonist, materialist, etc.” How were non-believers supposed to see any truth in the Catholic intellectual tradition if “we are actually building a wall around ourselves and closing to them all avenues of approach”? The liturgically formed Christian, we might say, sees all people as potential members of the body of Christ, as those for whom Christ has also died, and seeks to encounter them in the truth by engaging them on an equal level.
What is the value of dialogue if there is no concrete witness to back it up, or entangling of lives? Do academics with contrasting viewpoints socialize outside of their daytime job?
However, in contrast to the “antipolitical” politics (as proposed by Dreher), Michel saw the need for active political and social engagement. Like a true Thomist, Michel recognizes the importance of making important distinctions between the eternal and timeless principles, safeguarded by the Church, and contingent, context-dependent realities. Although the natural and the supernatural orders could not be identified, they remained interrelated, and Michel saw clearly how the natural political, social, and economic order affected the supernatural, and believed, following Pius XI, that what was needed was not only a change of spirit among Christians, but also of institutions.
Can Catholics be successful in co-opting a party platform or advancing their own candidates? If not, then what sort of "politics" is possible?
What is needed today is the living of a saintly life that shows the “world how the daily routine and concerns of life can be raised to the supernatural and so sanctified,” and this is the “type of sanctity . . . needed in our day.
Again, what sort of witness is possible in the modern nation-state?