Like many well-intentioned parents of our generation, my wife and I believed that child-rearing was largely a matter of finding the right method. Oh, we believed in prayer and grace well enough, and we knew there were variations in temperament that made some children a little more difficult to raise than others. But we were convinced that no child could resist the high-octane mixture of our faith, our affection, and our parenting skills.
Then the Lord gave us Ben. I will not belabor you with a long list of his crimes and misdemeanors. Only let me say that from the moment of his birth he was an utterly delightful, exhausting, exasperating, and fascinating phenomenon whom Heaven had decided to drop into our laps for the good of our souls. He was strong-willed, imaginative, utterly charming, very energetic and . . . and . . .
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Because she was with child, she cried aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky: it was a huge dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns; on his head were seven crowns. His tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born.”
The early Church Fathers taught that this passage has manifold meanings. On one level it refers to Mary of Nazareth and the birth of Christ; on another it refers to the Church as she labors to bear salvation into the world. This child is, in a sense, every child, and is the offspring of the Church. She is to carry this child as the image of God, transfigured in Christ, and to bring him forth into eternal life. She groans in agony, and the primeval serpent hates her, for he knows that her offspring, protected and grown in her womb, will crush his head. On still another level, the Woman of Revelation is Our Lady the Mother of the Church, mother of all peoples and all individual souls. As such, she exercises a particularly urgent mission to preserve the young from the deceptions of the ancient enemy of mankind.
In the storm of confusion and misinformation which has greeted the question of a papal definition of the dogma of Mary Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s well known question regarding the Mother of God, “Who are you, O Immaculata?” takes on new poignancy and urgency.
Who is she? Who is she really, and what is God doing through this unique woman? At first glance it is often assumed that God’s desire to enter creation through the womb of an immaculate virgin was a case of spiritual hygiene: If one were God, would one not wish to be conceived in the purest possible receptacle? While this is true, it is only the beginning of our understanding of the relationship between God and Mary.
Is she only a model of fidelity, an exemplary disciple, a saint (albeit the greatest of saints)? Is she no more than a sign? Yes, she is a sign. But much of the confusion about her in the modern mind derives from the peculiarly one-dimensional character of Western society, which has fractured the great harmony of the hierarchical cosmos so severely that the fault lines in our thinking and perceptions now run in all directions.
MI: The Croatian publishing house “Verbum” recently published your voluminous novel Father Elijah, translated as The End Times. What inspired you to write this neoapocalyptic novel?
O’Brien: It began one day a few years ago, 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 . . . .
COMBERMERE, Ontario, DEC. 6, 2001 (Zenit.org).— As the film “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” opened to record box-office receipts, ZENIT turned to renowned Canadian author Michael D. O’Brien to comment on the phenomenon. O’Brien’s works include the novel Father Elijah and a critique of the paganization of children’s culture, A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind, both by Ignatius Press.
Q: Many are critical of the Harry Potter books because they claim it is dangerous to expose children to witchcraft and the occult. What is your reaction to this?
O’Brien: I have read the four volumes of the Harry Potter series three times, and with each reading the serious defects of the novels appear in clearer light.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th have shaken the entire Western world, shattering our complacency, revealing to us the state of our unpreparedness, both sociopolitically and spiritually. We must hope that the subsequent turning to God in public and private prayer will continue, and that the present conflict will not spiral out of control into a global conflict. We must pray that Christ’s peace and his true justice will triumph over man’s instinctive desire for vengeance, and his need for security.
Freedom from fear is a good, but it cannot be purchased at any cost. If our highest value is only security, then we may for a time secure the borders of the West against the fanatics who hate us. But the internal life of a people is ultimately its best guarantor of strength. If we do not return to the principles God has written into creation, and live by moral absolutes both in our private lives and in our culture, we will suffer more attacks from violent individuals and groups.
Toward the beginning of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, the central character Prince Myshkin is shown a portrait of a young woman named Nastassya Filippovna by a Madame Yepanchin, his hostess. She holds Nastassya in contempt because her moral reputation is tarnished.
“So, you appreciate that kind of beauty?” she asks the prince.
“Yes. That kind—” the prince replies with an effort.
“Why?” she asks.
“In that face—there is much suffering,” he says, as though involuntarily, as though he is talking to himself.
“Beauty like that is strength,” one of the other women in the room angrily declares. “One could turn the world upside down with beauty like that.”
Nastassya is indeed physically beautiful. She is also suffering from her victimization (she was seduced by a wealthy guardian at a young age).
The realm of human imagination is a God-given gift, a faculty of the mind that is intended for the expansion of our understanding by enabling us to visualize invisible truths. In the modern era this zone of man’s interior life has moved to the forefront of his experience. With the advent of film, television, and now the near-virtual reality of special effects videos and other electronic entertainment, the screen of the imagination is stimulated to a degree (both in quantity and kind) more than at any other period in history. This has prompted an ongoing debate over what constitutes healthy nourishment of the imagination and what degrades it.
In his essay “On Fairy Stories” J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that because man is made in the image and likeness of God he is endowed with faculties that reflect his Creator.
Transcript of a talk by Michael D. O’Brien at the National Prolife Convention,
Save the Planet’s People Conference, Toronto, November 25-27, 1999
We in the West have focused many of our battles against the culture of death through the intellect, and rightly so. The baptized intellect is an essential part of the struggle to push back the darkness, to establish, re-establish the civilization of love. But, to my mind, in the Western world we have lived for several centuries now with what I believe to be a catastrophic split within us—the split between the mind and the heart.
Transcript of a talk by Michael D. O’Brien at the National Prolife Convention,
Save the Planet’s People Conference,
Toronto, November 25-27, 1999
Dr. David Dooley: It is my pleasure to introduce Michael O’Brien. If I were to ask you, if we had a blackboard here and I asked you who your favorite Canadian novelists were, excluding of course Michael O’Brien, I would easily get a list of ten people like Margaret Atwood and Margaret Lawrence and so forth, but what would be interesting about the list would be that there would be no Catholics, and probably very few Christians in it.