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A Note from Abbot Austin

This letter originally appeared in the Fall 2023 edition of The Clerestory. For the full edition, please click here.

In trying to read the “signs of the times,” so as to preach the gospel more effectively in our day, we can notice certain movements in society that are telling. One of those is called “localism.”

Localism is a movement to go local, as it were, whether in economics, politics, sociologically, or in other ways. Consider some examples. When you see initiatives to have people “buy local” or even to grow their own food, it is a form of localism. Another example is when people favor local businesses over large corporations. And a further example is the view that more decision-making should be on the level of state and local governments than on the level of federal government. As these examples show, it is hard to classify localism as a movement of the Left or of the Right, for some forms are associated with the one and some with the other.

What does this have to do with the gospel? For one, notice that we are called to love our neighbor and that the word “neighbor” means someone near to us. Yes, to be sure, we are also to love those who are far away and do what we can to help them. But the genuineness of our love is especially tested in how well we love those near to us: those in our homes, our local communities, our parishes, our workplaces, and so on.

There is a general sense today that things are spiraling out of control culturally, politically, and globally. In turn, we can feel helpless. But let us not forget that there is a lot we can do close to home, that is, locally. With the people we encounter directly in our own vicinity, we can form good relationships, offer help, have conversations, share the gospel, form small communities.

There is a temptation to say that these possibilities are “small potatoes” in the face of national or global problems. But the kingdom starts with the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed. And a small, local group of twelve men, gathered around Jesus, brought salvation to the world. Further, one of the most effective ways of spreading the gospel today has been to start with small faith-sharing communities that lead to what the organization FOCUS calls “spiritual multiplication.”

One reason I think of this is because Benedictines are in a way the “localists” among Catholic religious orders. We take a vow of stability, so as to belong to one monastery our whole lives, and thus we sink roots in the locality of the monastery. This monastery in Lisle, Illinois, is where we work out our salvation, as we interact with each other and with neighbors of the monastery. In turn, may God grant that our efforts to live the gospel according to the Rule of St. Benedict have a spiritually-multiplying effect in our own day.


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