This is not the time to hide in the catacombs.
An interview with the Polish news service, FRONDA, www.fronda.pl, January 16, 2010
1. You had some trouble getting your books published. What is the general reaction to them in the secularized West. Are Catholics the only people who read your books?
O’Brien: I receive many letters from believers and non-believers, telling me how much my books have meant to them. It is always a deep consolation, because for many years I could not get my books published in Canada, my homeland. My country is extremely secular, socio-politically similar to Germany and Holland. I wrote manuscripts from 1977 until 1995, and always the publishers told me they would publish my books if I deleted the Catholicism, or warped it. I always refused, and thus remained unpublished in my own native land. Even now, none of my novels have been published in Canada. When in 1995 I finally sent my manuscripts to a publisher in the USA, they were immediately accepted. Since then, during the past 15 years more than 12 of my books have been published. It was a good lesson for me about many things. For one, the true nature of secular culture, which is always tending toward the neo-totalitarian suppression of cultural freedom (as well as political freedoms); it is ever willing to lock Catholic culture into a ghetto. As Orwell once wrote: "Some of us are more equal than others."
Second, I learned about our need to never lose hope. I am very grateful to God that my books are now translated into eleven languages. It is a special joy for me to see how swiftly Polish publishers have made my work known in your country—the publishers Fides et Traditio, Wydwnictwo M, and Znak.
2. What kind of reactions are your books causing and what is it telling you about the world we live in?
O’Brien: My books have received very positive reviews in major newspapers in the USA and throughout Europe, notably Italy, Spain, Germany, France and other nations—in both secular and religious media. This has surprised me greatly, but it affirms for me that Catholic literature does not need to compromise on the Truth (to do so we would cease to be authentic Catholics). Much depends on the literary quality of the work. If a novel tells a story that grips the imagination of a reader, then many important truths can be communicated in fictional form. Of course, there have also been strong negative reactions, especially from those forces in North American society, primarily through culture, which see my books as a threat to the social revolution—the "dictatorship of moral relativism." I have been astonished at the malice and irrational critiques. However, I understand that if we speak the truth in love, such reactions are inevitable.
3. Your books are a proclamation of Apocalypse. Is this only licentia poetica or do you really think the end is near?
O’Brien: I should say that only 3 of my 9 novels examine apocalyptic themes. I do not know the day or the hour when the Lord will return. I am not a mystic. But I take very seriously the exhortation of Jesus, when he tells us to "stay awake and watch." We know from his warnings, and from the other prophetic passages in sacred scripture, that the generation that is least awake will sufer the great tribulations of the Apocalpyse. My task is to ask the questions that each generation must ask: Are we awake? Are we reading the signs of the times correctly? Are we spiritually and morally prepared, if indeed these are the times the Lord warned us about? My novels are very different from Protestant "end-times" scenarios. Catholic apocalyptic reflection should never be a kind of "baptised Gnosticism" (a contradiction in terms). Knowledge alone cannot save us. Union with Jesus and confidence in his saving power is what is most needed.
4. Is it right to wonder about the end of the world? Our Lord Jesus says He will return unexpectedly.
O’Brien: It is indeed right and prudent to ponder this subject. In other scripture passages our Lord calls us to observe the signs of the times. Of course, the danger of misinterpretation is always present. We must avoid hysteria and subjective interpretation on one hand, and blind denial on the other hand. Both reactions are harmful for our spiritual health. Above all, we must never succumb to a spirit of fear, because fear drives out love and undermines trust in the Lord.
5. How do you explain your thorough insight into Polish-Jewish relations?
O’Brien: As the Church teaches, the Jewish people are still beloved by God. They are "the first-born of the Lord," and "our elder brothers in the faith." In the sufferings they endured during the Nazi era, they are also a prefigurement of what will come upon all the children of God at the end of the ages when the Anti-Christ makes total war against those who seek to live according to God’s law, and follow Jesus wholeheartedly. St. Paul also prophetically tells us that at the end, the "whole household of Israel" will come into the full revelation of the New Covenant in Christ. In this sense, then, our lives are inextricably involved with each other in the spiritual dimension, as well as the sociopolitical one.
6. Why did you choose a Pole, Paweł Tarkowski, as a main character in "Sophia House"? Do you notice any signs of Apocalypse in the contemporary history of Poland? Why did you choose a Jew for another main character in the book and why did you make him a friend to Pawel?
O’Brien: I chose the character of Pawel Tarnowski, because for me he represents the crucifixion of the Polish Catholic people. You are a most outstanding people, rich in faith and culture, with an extraordinary history of courage and preservation of your spiritual identity. During the Second World War, along with the Jews, you were a primary target of Nazi malice (and later the Soviet manifestation of totalitarianism). Pawel represents a humble, good man who has many struggles. But he overcomes them with faith, with prayer and sacraments, and by learning to carry the cross with Christ. Because he suffers, he also is able to feel empathy with others who suffer, particularly the Jewish youth who comes under his protection.
7. Do you notice any powers that are now tending to take control over the world? Where are their headquarters?
O’Brien: Manifestations of anti-human government have many forms. Some are overtly totalitarian, and others are "soft" totalitarian. The 20th and 21st centuries are full of the "hard" tyrannies such as Communism, Naziism, Fascism, and what remains of Marxist statism throughout the world—in China for example. However, the totalitarianism of the materialist "democracies" also manifests anti-human elements. For example, the European Union has sought to eradicate the influence of the Christian roots of Europe, and tries to impose radically immoral laws throughout the member states. The United Nations organization, in its way, has promoted extreme anti-population measures throughout the under-developed and developing nations. Both the EU and the UN present themselves as a new kind of "humanism" even as they relentlessly undermine the foundations of a truly human civilization. They would eliminate certain portions of the human community in the name of humanity—for example, through abortion and euthanasia. They are also promoting indoctrination of the young through massive propaganda in education and through media, and also through financial rewards and punishments.
8. In one of your inteviews during your last trip to Poland you pointed out that the current American president could be an Antichrist. Why him exactly? There are many liberal-left politicians, so what is different about Obama, what distinguishes him from let's say Bill Clinton?
O’Brien: There have been many Anti-Christs during the past 2000 years. This deceiving spirit has been with us and assaulted us from the beginning. We must never forget that every persecution of the Church by such prefiguring Anti-Christs has come about when there is weakening and sometimes widespread apostasy from the Faith. The historian Eusebius points out that even the later Roman persecutions occurred whenever the Christians of the times grew lax in their faith. In our present time we are living through a massive apostasy in the former nations of Christian civilization. Precisely at this moment, the American people have elected the most anti-Life president in its history, a man who seeks to promote grave evils, particularly in the area of sexual morality and bioethics. He implements new laws that would force American taxpayers to pay for acts that a majority believe are absolutely evil. Democracy is being manipulated to undermine true democracy. Anti-human policies are promoted under the costume of "humanism" or "tolerance" or "freedom." It is a very dangerous, very deceiving lie, and its fruit is death.
9. Is there a "sign of Antichrist" in any of the world's powers, governments? They expect mankind to be obedient to someone other than Christ.
O’Brien: I believe there are three major symptoms of totalitarianism, and all three are presently dominant parts of policy in the emerging new world order. Every system of totalitarian rule, including and between the extremes of brutal tyranny and soft-spoken control, has this in common: 1) the rejection of binding moral absolutes established by a transcendent Being, whom we Christians know is God our Father in the Holy Trinity; and thus: 2) the minimizing of the absolute value of human life, and 3) the elevation of the State (malignant and seemingly benevolent alike) as the final arbiter of good and evil. Such governments are imbued with a spirit that is anti-Christ. They are fertile ground for the world figure predicted by the prophets of the Old and New Testaments, that is "the Man of Sin," the Antichrist himself. I suggest that your readers see the passage about this subject in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 675.
10. What should Catholics do as the Apocalypse begins? Hide in catacombs to save the treasure of Faith or be active in the world, proclaim the Faith and get ready to become martyrs?
O’Brien: This is not the time to hide in the catacombs. He who seeks to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for the sake of Jesus will inherit eternal life. (Luke 9: 24). We are called by God at this time of history to speak the truth in a spirit of love at every opportunity, to be firm and courageous in our fidelity to Christ, not only in our private lives but also in public life. We are called to participate in the new evangelization with renewed fervor and dedication, not to hide from the world. At the same time we must be detached from any misleading measurement of success or failure. Only God sees the true value of our labours for his Kingdom. We are called to bear public witness to the coming victory of Christ over all the malice and deceits of the ancient enemy of mankind. This means we will suffer much opposition, and undergo trials. It is a time of very great glory for the Church and all those who follow Jesus, not the glory as the world sees it, but a most beautiful and most eternal light. Some of us may suffer a bloody martyrdom, but all of us without exception are asked by the Lord to be martyrs in one form or other. The word martyr means "witness," one who testifies to the truth as a living and saving power of God.
11. Do you think that the current situation of the Church is an effect of liberalization in the world or is it the other way – the liberalization is an effect of the current situation of the Church (softening the teaching, inner dysfunctions, etc.)?
O’Brien: Whenever the vitality of the Church weakens, the spirit of the world grows stronger. Modern liberalism, in both secular and religious forms, is never authentically "liberal" in the classical sense of the word. In the sphere of action it invariably translates into moral compromise—and other human beings must pay the price for this compromise. Liberalism within the Church is sometimes a naïve attempt to make a better dialogue with the world. Of course, real dialogue is needed, but for forty years and more many Christians in the free nations of the West have tried to dialogue with the world on its terms, not on the ground of solid rock. The fruit of this has been utterly disasterous. There is, I think, less liberalism in Poland. All I can say is, please do not make the mistake of thinking that liberal theology or liberal ecclesiology or liberal strategizing is about freedom. It is not. In the beginning, it may look like compassion or openness. But it is a short-term kindness and a long-term cruelty. It also tends to become very oppressive and not truly liberal whenever it gains power. Its fruits are catastrophic. I beg you, do not become like us, we who in the Western nations have traded our birthright for a mess of pottage. We were deceived by a friendly monster, and now the true nature of this monster is revealing itself more and more. We now must live in morally devastated societies, with the guilt of the unjust death of millions of souls through abortion and euthanasia, and devastated family life on an unprecedented scale. Moreoever, evil follows upon evil.
12. What is the greater danger to the Western world – an Islamic threat or neopaganism?
O’Brien: They are both dangerous. Islamic expansionism invades from outside. Neopaganism corrupts subtly from within. The only solution for a people, for a nation, is to find its true spiritual identity and to live it with courage. At the foundation, this will ask of us that we be totally open to human life, to pour all our resources into encouraging healthy traditional families, and to resist materialism in its many manifestations, and above all we must seek the graces of the Lord in a way that we have not, perhaps, since the early centuries of the Church.
13. In the West people are afraid of Islamic expansion but in Poland as well as in most countries of Eastern Europe we are still more afraid of Russia's revival of authoritarian rule and aggressive foreign policy. How do you see Russia's role in the Apocalypse (in connection with Fatima's prophecies)?
O’Brien: Russia’s role in the mysterious unfolding of history could go in many directions. It could go in the direction of Gog and Magog, the spirit of Anti-Christ in a new post-Marxist form, or it could go in the direction of finding its spiritual identity, what was once called, long ago, "holy Russia." At Fatima, Our Lady told us that in the end Russia would be converted. But there can still be many disasters committed before that conversion. Presently there is a return to the freedoms that Russian Orthodoxy once enjoyed before the Revolution, but this will not bring about a widespread conversion of the people unless there is true repentance and a profound humility. Russia’s old Church-State theocracy cannot work in the face of the challenges of the modern era. It is my belief that both East and West must seek the will of God in a way that we have not for more than a millennium. By finding our distinct spiritual identities, the "two lungs", as Pope John Paul II called them, we will offer to the world a saving "witness." There is only one Heart beating within the Body of Christ and this is Jesus Christ.
14. How do you feel as an author in the world where bestsellers in literature are "The Da Vinci Code" and "Harry Potter." Authors of those books represent totally different vision of the reality we live in.
O’Brien: Years ago, while I was praying before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Spirit gently showed me that if I desired to be faithful to his inspirations I must be prepared to be a "sign of contradiction," a sign that will be rejected. This is the calling of all Christians. We do not seek rejection, and never provoke it, but it is the condition of humanity that some people will feel threatened or enraged when we are simply faithful. Our Lord has continually affirmed in my soul that I must be willing at every moment to lose everything for the sake of the truth. This is the vocation of all Christian creators of culture. The good of many souls depends on our fidelity.
15. What is your next book going to be about? Are we going to find there anything about Poland as well?
O’Brien: There are several of my books in the editing stage for publication this year. My next novel, "Theophilos," is scheduled to be published by my English language publisher, Ignatius Press in March, 2010. It will also be published this year in at least three translations, Polish, Italian, and Croatian. This novel is a fictional life of the mysterious man to whom St. Luke addressed his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. I have portrayed him as a classical Greek, a doctor, a scholar, who is shocked by his adopted son Luke’s conversion to the "cult of the Christos" in Judea. He goes on a voyage to rescue Luke from this "cult." The story is about Theophilos’s spiritual journey from agnosticism to Christian faith. I should say no more lest I give away the plot.
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Polish visitors are invited to read the Polish language text of this interview online at the Fronda website: http://www.fronda.pl/news/czytaj/o_brien_wywiad