The apprentices have gone home and I am preparing a hot bath to slow my mind down and absorb the experience we’ve just shared.
At the end of his moral classic, After Virtue, in which he describes the failure of the modern moral (and therefore political) project, Alisdair MacIntyre writes:
A crucial turning point in that earlier history [the gradual end of the western Roman Empire] occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead… was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.
I sense that something parallel is occurring even now in our American imperium, though the parallel must not be forced. MacIntyre continues:
If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the dark ages which are already upon us.
I’m not stretching too far when I say that the apprenticeship is a feeble attempt to at least empower people to contribute to such communities. It can’t be such a community because it is not local. But perhaps it can help others to build them.
And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another –doubtless very different — St. Benedict.
Turn your heart to your family and your church. Turn your heart away from this free-falling world and its honors. Something better beckons you.