An abbreviated version of this interview with Michael O’Brien appeared in the August 15, 2004, edition of Our Sunday Visitor. The interviewer is Thomas Szyszkiewicz.
The Canadian Parliament recently passed Bill C-250 which amends the federal hate crimes law to include speech against sexual orientation. Some Canadian groups have complained about it, saying even the Bible could be seen as hate literature. What’s wrong with what was passed?
O’Brien: A number of aspects of the new law are profoundly disturbing. For one thing, there already exists in Canadian law abundant protection of human rights, including protection against discrimination on grounds of “sexual orientation.” What is distinctive about the new law is the criminalization of negative criticism of homosexuality as such.
Published in the July/August, 2003, issue of Saint Austin Review
In early February of this year a storm of banner headlines raged in the world’s media: “Harry Potter Is Ok With The Pontiff” declared the Chicago Sun Times. “Pope Approves Potter” declared the Toronto Star. Throughout North America, England, Australia, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and points beyond, the press and e-media proclaimed “Vatican okays Harry Potter” (News24, South Africa), “Vatican gives blessing to Harry Potter” (Scotsman), “Pope Sticks Up for Potter Books” (the BBC); “Vatican: Harry Potter’s OK with Us” (CNN Asia), and so forth.
Little attention was paid to the fact that this “news” was not in any way representative of positions held on the matter by the Pope or by his congregations in the Curia. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that the Holy Father has been spending his free time reading the ongoing adventures of the world’s favorite boy sorcerer.
Sophia House is set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. Pawel Tarnowski, a bookseller, gives refuge to a Jewish youth (David Schäfer) who has escaped from the Ghetto, and hides him in the attic of the book shop. Throughout the winter of 1942-43, haunted by the looming threat of discovery, the two discuss good and evil, sin and redemption, literature and philosophy, and their respective religious views of reality. Decades later David becomes a convert to Catholicism and is the Carmelite priest, Fr. Elijah, called by the Pope to confront the Antichrist in Michael O’Brien’s novel, Father Elijah: an apocalypse. In this “prequel” the author explores the meaning of love, religious identity, and sacrifice viewed from two distinct perspectives.
Plague Journal is set in the near future. The novel is composed of both written and mental notes made by Nathaniel Delaney, Ann and Stephen’s grandson, who is the editor of a small town newspaper. The story takes place over … Continue reading
The following interview was published in the July-August, 1998, issue of Gilbert!, a journal devoted to the ideas of G. K. Chesterton.
Gilbert! Its subtitle is “An Apocalypse.” It is a view of the end-times. Are we there now, at a time near the end of the world?
O’BRIEN. I don’t know. Every generation has to stay awake and watch, as Our Lord exhorted us to in the Gospels. Each is called to an attitude of vigilance. The scriptures warn us that the generation that is least vigilant is, in fact, the one that will be visited by the ultimate test. So my novel, unlike a number of other end-times novels which have appeared in the last couple of years, does not so much try to predict specific details of an apocalypse or to pinpoint certain characters and personalities on the world stage, as to ask the reader to go deeper and to ask himself, am I personally in a fit condition to meet the spiritual crisis into which I will be plunged if these are in fact the last days to which the prophets were pointing? True Christian prophesy is about preparing the heart and the mind to embrace the truth. Therefore, wanting neat fortune-telling packages about the near future is really in a sense undermining a true spirit of vigilance.
The following is a letter by Michael D. O’Brien in response to a mother who wrote to him regarding fantasy literature and its influence on her children. Though she is a person of strong faith, she is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the continuous influx of disordered fantasy and other corrupt cultural influences in her children’s lives. She notes two significant factors in her situation, ones which are probably shared by most families.
The first: despite all efforts to keep questionable material out of her home, her children are constantly exposed to it through their friends, extended family, and neighbors, in libraries, and at school.
The second: they are too young to fully understand why their parents object to this material, especially since it is in the forefront of young people’s interests at this time, including all the families with whom they are acquainted.
This woman’s family is strong in the practice of their faith, and she strives to provide good cultural material, especially reading, in the home. However, the children constantly pressure her to allow them access to objectionable books, films, and videos.
Ignatius Insight: Your most recent novel, A Cry of Stone, is the fifth book in the Children of the Last Days series. What was the inspiration and idea behind this series of novels?
O’Brien: It began one day in the mid-1990’s, when I was visiting the Blessed Sacrament in my local parish. I was praying for the Church. Suddenly overwhelmed by the reality of how many particular Catholic churches in the Western world have been seduced by materialism and have slid into grave sin and error, I was stricken with a deep grief. Though I am not an especially emotional person by nature, I began to weep….a profound weeping and groaning that was more spiritual than emotional. I begged God to purify and strengthen the Church in my land, in all the Americas and Western Europe.
Suppose you live in a small town in the hill country, far from the big cities. And suppose that just down the road from you there lives a quiet sort of family about whom there isn’t anything outstanding, except that they are devoted to each other and are very devout in the practice of their faith. The dad is a carpenter who makes furniture in his shop beside their small house. The mother is a “home-maker,” a lovely person really. Their ten-year-old son is a polite sort of lad, helps his dad in the shop, is serious by nature, never says much but is ever-ready to smile at the drop of a hat. You meet him sometimes while walking along the country road or tromping through the bush; you turn a corner or step over a log and there he is kneeling beside a pond watching a beaver build a dam, or there he is gazing up into a tree branch listening to newborn robins chirping in their nest. That’s him—just listening, just looking. He notices you, smiles, bows a little, then seems to gaze at you as if you were as wonder-full as the world. He’s not shy, just quiet. Like his dad, he carves small wooden toys as gifts for the other children in the neighborhood. There’s something special about him, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.
Advent has begun, the time of waiting when we turn toward the coming dawn with renewed expectancy. Each year in the liturgical cycle we are invited to pray with the entire Church for the rebirth of Christ within the stable of our hearts, and for the graces we will need as we await his final coming. The scripture readings are about hope arising in the midst of darkness, of beginnings and endings and the eternal joy when there will be no more endings. Until that ultimate homecoming, we live in a world that is still in the process of being restored in Christ. The Christ Child is among us, and so is Herod.
Every year or so I read aloud to my children Charles Dickens’ great classic, A Christmas Carol. Most of our six have also reread it quietly to themselves and watched the three better known film versions of it. There are always new lights to be found in just about any Dickens novel, and the Carol is no exception. You find yourself laughing at something which last year you found not in the least funny; this year you’re choking back a sob where last year you were left untouched.