The buzz surrounding the Benedict Option has spawned many spinoffs, each looking to a particular spirituality to focus the renewal of Church and culture. As a Benedictine oblate, I agree with Rod Dreher that the Benedictines provide a crucial and necessary witness on how to rebuild Christian culture. We need strong local communities that find new ways of living the faith in the midst of a hostile culture.
This fall, my new book, The Beer Option, will appear. By pointing to beer, I am not proposing yet another option, but highlighting a distinctive element of the great Benedictine tradition: brewing monks. There are a number of things we can learn from the monastic practice of brewing: the importance of self-sufficiency and local economy, the need to craft quality products, preserving the traditions of our culture, and ordering our work to the glory of God. These values have made the Benedictines—and the broader Benedictine family which includes Cistercians and Trappists—the best brewers in the world.
In conjunction with the release of the book, I will be leading a pilgrimage to France and Belgium to visit seven monasteries in the Benedictine family. Two of these French monasteries were among the first places to brew hopped beer in the 800s, and one of them, St. Wandrille, recently began brewing beer solely with a monastic workforce. We will also be visiting some of the most highly rated breweries in the world, within the walls of Trappist monasteries in Belgium, such as Westvleteren, Chimay, and Orval. The trip will present a coherent vision of Catholic culture, visiting the tombs of saints (Thérèse, Vincent de Paul, Catherine Labouré, Louis King of France, and Columba Marmion) the Louvre, gothic cathedrals, and the beautiful Belgian cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels.
The trip will delve deeply into the Beer Option, looking to the vibrant Catholic tradition for inspiration for cultural renewal, embracing and uniting all of the great and small things of life: faith, friendship, art, food and drink, and our Catholic heritage. We will rediscover how the monks and generations of faithful Catholics built the culture of Christendom and how we can build upon it to referment our own culture. Learn more about it and sign up at Religious Travel International.
The Beer Option encourages us to take time to enjoy conversation with friends over a cold drink, to support your local economy and to rediscover a home economy (through homebrewing), to come alive to a greater appreciation of the subtleties of taste and our senses, and to discover monastic traditions as a model for building Christian culture in our lives and families. Any “option” to rebuild culture requires not just an overarching vision, but also the shaping of our daily practices. Beer cannot save our culture, let alone our soul, but as I’ve examined beer’s place in the great tradition I can say with confidence that beer has played a prominent role—though one hidden in the daily details—in Christian culture by providing a safe and sustaining drink (crucial in the Middle Ages), facilitating the joy of festivity, and representing an important domestic and urban craft.
Christian culture must embrace all that we do, as we form a way of life shaped by our faith. Alcohol can undermine a healthy and holy culture when consumed to excess, but, when placed within the right spiritual and cultural perspective, can help spark renewal in drawing people together for friendship and celebration and in rediscovering a locally rooted and delicious craft. Ultimately, we need a spiritual vision to guide our renewal, which the Benedictines can provide, but, thanks be to God, this vision can embrace a frothy mug.