The following “documents” present scenarios for the Church as it might become a hundred years from now. The author wishes to point out to the reader that, given the complexity of factors in the present world, many other situations could develop. But the following suggest three which are not beyond the realm of possibility.
The first: The Church is undergoing a world-wide persecution, during which the strengths of the Body of Christ are in full flower under conditions of extreme suffering.
The second: A worst-case scenario, in which the Church, especially in North America and Europe, has been largely compromised, has grown lukewarm and made a false peace with the spiritus mundi.
The third: After a delay of a century, a grace period brought about by the “New Evangelization” of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church has succeeded in bringing the Gospel to the entire world.
The story takes place in the Balkans. What inspired you to situate the novel in this place?
O’Brien: The seed of the novel was planted several years ago, in 1995, when I was writing my novel, “Father Elijah” [Posljednja vremena]. Without warning, a fictional character appeared in my imagination, though he was one I had not expected, named Brother Jakov, a Franciscan friar who had survived terrible experiences during the war of independence, 1991 – 1995. Years later, my books were translated into several foreign languages, among them Croatian. The publisher Verbum in Split, in conjunction with the Catholic apostolate MI, sponsored my visit to Croatia, where I gave several talks throughout the country. That was the first of four journeys I have made to the Balkan region. As I heard more and more stories told to me by Croats in both Croatia and Bosnia i Herzegovina, I began to realize that an enormous catastrophe had occurred here—more terrible and more significant than we in the West realized. I had read much about it, of course, but I learned that the media of Europe and North America had not really seen beneath the surface. I began to understand that the situation was more than a geo-political crisis, more than the horror of genocide. I saw it as a spiritual crisis that had consequences for the whole world. In prayer it came to me that I must tell this story in a way that people of the nations outside former-Yugoslavia would come to a deeper understanding. Readers would then see that your sufferings are representative of the cosmic war that will continue until the end of time—and is a warning about what will come to all the world, if mankind does not repent of its sins.
The world grows more complex and inflamed, violence erupts everywhere, evil seems to be spreading. I think of the massacre of students a few weeks ago in Montreal by a youth who left a message declaring his hatred of Christians, and the massacre of Amish children in Pennsylvania a few days ago by a man who proclaimed he was doing it because he hated God. I think of the wars in the Middle East, and the rage of Islamic extremists over an academic paper delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg, and the murder of a Catholic nun and burning of churches in reprisal for his talk. The list goes on and on and where it stops only Christians know — because the only place it stops is on a Cross on Calvary. Looking closely at what is happening in the world, or for that matter only superficially, we see murder in the human heart, violence as old as the story of Cain and Abel.
If Americans choose to push the culture of death to a new level, it will be a grave sign that worse is to follow. Polls are saying that 55% of American Catholics support Obama. If even “the elect” cannot recognize the deception, how will they discern rightly when a far worse “Man of Sin” appears!
We do not know for certain if Obama is just one of many “anti-Christ” figures emerging in the world, or if he will gradually mutate into the actual long-prophesied Antichrist, the “Man of Sin.” As I said before, he seems too shallow a person for such a role, his face and manner radiating an apparently wholesome good will. He seems nice. But his policies are not so nice. Jesus cautions us that we will know a tree by its fruits, by the intentions and actions of a man. Moreover, we must not underestimate the corrupting effects of power—especially power of the magnitude that may soon be given to Obama. It should also be recalled that just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too the “dark side” lusts for an emptiness to invade.
“I call on heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live….” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Vast numbers of modern men have come to believe the lie that God is dead and that death is triumphing. As a result of the disintegration of their world, they move about creation hardly knowing how to live. Rootless, wounded and terribly lonely. Despairing, they turn to the drug of materialism and pleasure, or the stimulant of violence, in a desperate flight from an intolerable vision of life. So many people no longer believe in a good God, and have amassed an enormous indictment against him, a case compounded by the crimes of the this past century.
The Nazi and Soviet tyrannies are prefigurements of the ultimate trial that will come upon the Church toward the end of time, as prophesied by Jesus himself, and the prophet Daniel and in St. John’s Apocalypse. We are now living in a non-violent totalitarianism that is becoming world-wide, what Pope Benedict called “the dictatorship of moral relativism.”Both he and John Paul II repeatedly warned that democracies are not immune from degenerating into tyrannies, and that they are most vulnerable to this corruption when they embrace a secular concept of the human person and banish from their governments the higher authority of God’s laws
The crisis of fatherhood, in its many forms, is at the root of most disorders in this late stage of Western civilization. And the root is intimately connected to the loss of our consciousness of the hierarchical nature of the created order. Large numbers of people not only seem unable to believe in God, but also cannot conceptualize Him in their thoughts and their hearts. The icon in the heart—the icon of fatherhood—is either damaged or absent entirely. Sin and error have contributed to this, and also two major world wars and the loss of millions of good men on all sides, as well as the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960’s onwards, and the rise of powerful modern media as the principle shaper of both consciousness and conscience—as Pope Benedict has called it, the “dictatorship of moral relativism.” Man has placed himself in the role of master and creator of his world, in his personal life and his societies, without reference to the actual moral order of the real universe. There is a radical disconnect not only in his thinking but in his perceptions of reality itself. This creates an interior void which becomes evident in his psychology, his emotional life, his intellect, his spirituality, his cultural expressions. The consequences are more than “mere” abstractions, because all of these dimensions of the human person express themselves in acts.
In this anthology you will find many such stories, written by men and women who have sought to live the fullness of our Catholic faith, often against great odds, with courage and with love. There is a self-honesty here, a constant humility heard between the lines, which points to the widespread awareness that we have been to some extent deprived of our sacramental “birthright”, if you will, and that nothing less than Truth can heal and restore us. “The Truth spoken in Love” was the constant guidepost for our writers and editorial choices. Thus, the authors you will meet through these pages are people who, like you, know that much is at stake, primarily the spiritual health of our children and the strengthening of our marriages. Moreover, that we live in what John Paul II called a “culture of death” has escaped no one’s notice, for anyone who strives for openness to life, to live according to Natural Law and illumined by sanctifying grace, cannot fail to enter a world of struggle. It is also, it should be noted, a world of great and unexpected joys—joys that are united to the path of sacrifice and trust exemplified by the Holy Family of Nazareth. In short, the “ordinary” life of faithful Catholic marriage and family is one that leads to the Cross—and thus, it is also one of Resurrection.
Once utilitarianism, in theory, is defined and exposed, every Catholic would say, “Oh, yes, that’s evil.” Yet, all too often there is a disconnect between theory and practice, as if we feel that such evils are regrettable but unavoidable; and that it is impossible for us personally to bridge the great chasm between what we conceive as a Christian “ideal” and practical reality, what we feel are our sad but necessary compromises with evil. To the degree that we think this way, that is the measure of how badly we have become infected by utilitarianism. The objective reality here is that other human beings, who are as beloved by God as we are, will pay for our disconnect with their suffering and/or their deaths. We will continue to vote for the utilitarian who seems less evil to us or who offers us an apparent good, such as security or economic stability (which we have, consciously or subconsciously, decided is a higher good than the sacredness of human life). A problem deeper still is the inability to even see the disjunct. What is the cause of this? Is it utilitarianism alone, even the worst kind, religious, or is there something else that needs pondering here?
When human beings are assaulted by radically dehumanizing experiences, as individuals or as part of systemic catastrophes, each of us is put to a fundamental test of character, our core belief about what really goes on in the universe. In such situations, man without God feels that he can rely only on himself, or on politics as pseudo-salvation. By contrast, man in union with God experiences a transcending hope, and a gradual union with Christ. Little by little he learns that his sufferings are redemptive. Easy to say, much harder to live. In fact, the blows of radical evil put the soul to an ultimate test.