During the Aug. 19-20 annual LifeSiteNews staff meeting in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, Catholic novelist and artist Michael O’Brien presented a talk highlighting spiritual emphasis related to the work of LifeSiteNews. The talk was spiritually challenging and placed our work in a profound perspective, one closer to the truth than our day-to-day perceptions grasp. Following are excerpts from Michael O’Brien’s comments that began following a request for him to share whatever insights he had for us, related to his extensive European travels and meetings with many leaders over the past year.
Michael O’Brien comments to LifeSiteNews Staff August 20, 2011:
John-Henry Westen [the editor of Lifesite News] and I were in Poland last September and spoke for six hours live on Radio Maria and Radio Maria TV, primarily about in vitro fertilization, but also on a number of other bioethics issues. When I was in Italy I also gave about 20 talks and media interviews, and several in Croatia, as well as interviews in Sweden.
The many dynamic people I met in these countries were all involved in trying to regenerate or build a culture of life in one way or another, and they had a universal sense about what the battle is about. It came out of every mouth, in different languages.
If I had to encapsulate it in a thumbnail, I would say that everyone is fighting a battle to the death with a dictatorship of moral relativism. This struggle is waged primarily regarding national laws to protect the unborn and to protect various aspects of life, but it’s on every other level of culture as well.
Confusion is created everywhere through media. Media is the primary shaper of consciousness in our times. In every nation I went, I found that it was the primary concern among apostolic people — clerics as well as lay apostles. The unprecedented power of film, television and Internet is something we Christians have never had to deal with before on this scale. And it was encouraging to see that new strategies are being initiated everywhere in every country where I went.
Common to all the people I met was the sense that we are facing a Goliath, a monster that feeds on, or is driven by money, profit, and an underlying agenda of social revolution on a scale I don’t think we have ever seen before in the history of man. What we are looking at is the dismantling of the great treasure Christianity gave Western civilization.
The situation in Poland and Italy and Scandinavia, as elsewhere in the world, varies in terms of specifics, and a lot of the resistance depends on how strongly their bishops’ conferences are willing to give witness against the revolution. Rather than speak about such specifics, I would instead like to address the subject of Materialism itself and what it’s doing to us all — whether people are suffering under communism or fascism or whether they are being devoured by a seeming benevolent consumerism.
Consumerism, the new face of materialism, is eating farther into the life of faith in these nations than overt oppression ever did. Consumerism is, in fact, a monster that is devouring the West. Every one of us is vulnerable to it, especially if we have children, because the young have been born into this psychological-social environment and are especially vulnerable to its pressures. I think we would be falling far short if we summarized the emerging new world as a purely sociopolitical revolution, or even a cultural revolution. We must look farther and deeper to see that underlying all the various manifestations of consumerist materialism is a spiritual war.
When I was in Italy, I had the most awesome privilege of meeting a novelist named Eugenio Corti. He is the author of a famous novel called The Red Horse. He is now in his 80’s, a devout Catholic, and a creative genius. His name is being touted around for the Nobel Prize in literature, but I don’t think that is going to happen — he’s just too explicitly Catholic in his fiction. Even so, he is a world class writer. When I visited him at his villa in Milan, I found him to be a humble, gentle, sweet man, a person of vast intelligence. Throughout one beautiful afternoon, we had a long talk comparing our own labors for Christ as writers of fiction.
At the end of the meeting, I asked him, “Do you have a word of advice for me?”
He leaned forward, took my hand, and said emphatically, “We are at war. We are at war, and we will be at war until the end of time. Cling to Jesus in everything that is about to happen.”
This is a man who has seen all kinds of horrors and political changes, but from his wise perspective he understood that now may be the most dangerous time of all.
If I could say anything to you who work at LifeSiteNews, dear friends and courageous knights, I would urge you to remember always, in whatever portion of the war that we have been given to fight, that we are fighting against unseen enemies — the invisible enemies — what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of darkness.
Last year when we were preparing to meet, I was praying about what I would say to you, and an interior light came to me that I should ask you to read Ephesians 6, the passage in which St. Paul says that we must put on the whole armor of God.
John-Henry Westen told me after I had given my presentation that Fr. Pelton had earlier in the day given you the same passage, and this was without any collusion between Father and myself. When I was praying about what I was to say today, a year later, the same passage returned with a certain urgency. It’s something that we must ponder often in the heart, meditate on and pray with. I am sure you all know it, but with your permission I would like to read those few lines again. St. Paul is speaking not only to the apostles of his own times but also to us; and through Paul, Jesus is speaking to us. He says:
“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not of flesh and blood but with the principalities and the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore put on the armor of God so that you may be able to resist on the evil day and having done everything to hold your ground, stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breast plate, with your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one, and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.”
He concludes: “With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me so that speech may be given to me to open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel.”
If your task is primarily for the promotion of the Gospel of Life, you are going to be confronting the unseen adversary, Satan, in his primary assault on mankind. He is, as Jesus says, the Father of Lies, a murderer from the beginning. He brought death into the world. This we must keep in mind whenever we confront those human beings who are his agents, both knowingly and unknowingly (and I would think that probably almost all of them unknowingly cooperate with evil on this scale).
Those who spread falsehood and murder are not ultimately our enemies. They are deluded. Their acts are hateful. Their words are hateful. But they, in their personhood, are not to be hated, and this distinction is very difficult to grasp in the heat of battle, especially where innocence is being violated, where we see the monster devouring nations, people, churches, particular churches, and countless individual lives.
If you have a heart for life, it is very hard to not rise up with anger against the violation of innocence. But it must never be directed against persons, and only against the acts of evil. At times over the years, in my role as an editor of a magazine and as a journalist fighting some of these demonic movements on the part of our adversary, I have made the mistake of letting myself be driven by anger. I have learned gradually that it is best never to react on impulse. Better to take a long walk, sometimes to let an article cool on the back burner for a few days, to pray and to ponder it in the heart. I have often been excited by a clever bit of sword-play on my typewriter, only to realize after some prayer and reflection how imprudent, how ineffective it was.
I have also learned that timing is important. All my mistakes as a writer have been made when I was rushing, when I was under some sense of pressure to stop the monster from taking another great chunk out of the Church or mankind in general. Implicit in this hasty, driven anxiety was an imperfect faith. First and foremost was my imperfect faith that the Lord has already won the war.
There are some dreadful final battles to come and they will be perhaps among the worst in the history of man. There will be many more casualties. Our task is primarily to help awaken people to the nature of the war and to reduce the number of casualties, and to even be instrumental in bringing forth more beautiful souls who will live with us in eternity. We must keep in mind always the real horizon, the eternal horizon, the vision of the truth that the Lord has won.
The second dimension we must keep in mind is that it is His war. The battle is the Lord’s. You remember that when David faced Goliath, Saul wanted to give him his kingly armor. In modern parlance that might be $10 million dollars dropped into the resources of the pro-life movement, or it might mean a billionaire who wants to fund LSN. In one sense it would be delightful. But we must be very careful about this. Money cannot win the final battles of the great war. Recall that throughout the entire salvation history the Lord prefers to choose the small and the weak of the earth to confound all the powers of the enemy.
In my own life, as I have become increasingly a public person because of my work, there can be a subtle temptation to think, “I have to do it”, or “I know how to do it”, or “I have this sword in my hand, I will smite the enemy.” You hear the repetition: I … I … I. Our human nature is always tending toward relying on our own resources, consciously or subconsciously. I believe that the whole history of salvation shows us that the Lord, though He will give us larger resources from time to time, desires us to understand that He wants us to grow in faith, so that we would make our foundation on Him, not on ourselves and our skills and resources. Founded on faith, we are then better able to receive particular graces for particular battles.
Remember too that God doesn’t force anything upon us. He is a God of love. He is also a God of war against mankind’s unseen foe; but He is, above all, a Father who loves each and every person. He never violates our human freedoms, never sweeps aside our nature. He desires to perfect it, enrich it, and make it ever more fruitful. This is why God does not simply drop overwhelming spiritual and material resources into the laps of those who will serve Him in this great war. He may do some of that at certain crucial moments, but it is not His primary way. Instead, He wishes us to ask daily for everything that we need in our weakness, and to be content to remain in that condition of dependency.
This is a very difficult thing for us to grasp at this time in history. We are saturated in the psychology of success and strategizing. It goes without saying that a certain amount of thoughtful, prayerful strategizing must be done but we must never for a moment forget that strategy alone will not win this war. The Lord himself will win the final battles of this war, through our weakness and absolute dependence upon Him, regardless of what is happening all around us, regardless of the amount of defeat we suffer.
You have seen some extraordinary victories through LSN this past year, in the defense of life and a confounding of the compromise of the Church in Canada. To my mind, you have managed to do that by taking a lot of flak, human malice and false judgement, as well as less visible spiritual attacks. And you have done it without retaliating in kind to your human accusers, those who would negate the voice of Lifesite by spreading falsehood against you.
The passage in Ephesians 6 is loaded with impact for us, and we must prayerfully read this passage in times of darkness when we are feeling assaulted, and when we are feeling defeated, lied about and calumniated in the media and most painfully when it comes from Christian media.
How, then, do we pass through this minefield in such a way that we preserve and respect the eternal nature of the Church, the body of Christ in this world, and respect the offices of bishops and priests, while recognizing that certain bishops and priests are betraying the Gospels and the teachings of the Church? How do we navigate through that?
One thing we always have to keep in mind is the danger of slipping into ad hominem self-defense in our responses to unjust attacks. You have frequently been attacked ad hominem, and this past year was particularly nasty in this regard. But you haven’t responded in kind with abrasive and negatively critical tone or content. Instead, it seems to me, unless I missed something, you have faithfully stuck to the facts and preserved charity toward persons while reporting on the falsehoods and evil policies promoted by such persons. This is no violation of charity. When human life is at grave risk, the ultimate charity is toward these innocent human lives who are being weighed in the balance.
As a case in point, you tried by every possible private means to correct the Development and Peace situation in ways that would avoid scandal. You have been trying for years, and when your efforts failed to prompt any kind of positive response, as you met stone-wall after stone-wall, I believe that you had a duty to make it public. You did it without attacking the personal motivation of those people who have compromised the body of Christ and are participating in the spread of the culture of death in the name of the Church, in the name of the Gospel.
You reported the hidden scandal with much regret and sadness, and you did it with the truth. You knew, as well, that you could not resist it with words alone. The Holy Spirit was also active, as he moved particular bishops to see the problem and to make significant steps to correct it, to call Development and Peace to a real accountability. Here again, we recall the phrase from David’s lips when he faces Goliath: “The battle is the Lord’s.” The human instrument, a small shepherd boy named David, is what the Lord chooses to confound the overwhelming power of a giant and a hostile army. By the same measure, you did your part. You did it with charity and with clarity. I read all the documents as the scandal unfolded, and I did not find any instance where you defended the life of pre-birth children with rancor or with the desire to harm anyone, but only with the desire to save lives and the desire to expose and correct a major entry point of corruption which Satan had made into the Church.
There will be more struggles to come. Some of these will come from left field; they are going to hit you by surprise. They may even come from unexpected sources and will really hurt you. In the years ahead, if you continue to do what you are meant to do, keep in mind these few principle thoughts:
The war is won. The last battles are ramping up to a level of great intensity, confusion, oppression and darkness, but the Lord is in the midst of the battle with us. If you keep Him in your hearts at all times, if you are like David who faced Goliath with faith, you will see surprising victories in the midst of what, to all appearances, may look like total defeat. It is faith that brings down Goliath and it is faith which brings down any form of monster that assaults the Kingdom of God. The five smooth stones and a boy’s sling were a literal and symbolic sign of something much more immense within David himself. This sign points us, in every generation, to the power of faith. David’s faith was his armor and his ultimate weapon. And it’s ours too.
You are watchmen. You are not like secular journalists who simply give the facts, and all too often distort them or give false impressions by gross selectivity. There are of course good journalists who fairly give many of the same facts that you present in your articles, and though such people are not a majority, they are there. They offer portions of the picture. They fight portions of the battle, not always perfectly but with a degree of loyalty to truth, even some who are outside the realm of those who follow Christ.
We have in the West tended to see the battle between Life and the culture of death as falling into two political categories, that is, conservative or liberal. But the nature of the war is changing. Left/right, conservative/liberal, neo-conservative/neo-liberal and so forth, can be misleading templates when applied to the great war in which we are all immersed. In the midst of such confusion, you as a voice of truth in the public forum must continually assert the primacy of fundamental principles that cut across all political lines. As the voice of the watchman, you must speak with unwavering clarity and conviction, and you must do it in a spirit of love — Caritas in Veritate. You must love mankind as a community of persons, not only the innocent, not only those who are falling victim to abortion and euthanasia and, probably soon, assisted suicide and all the other ways the culture of death is pushing the frontiers. You are also to love our enemies.
How do we love our enemies? Again, we must look to the Scriptures. Yes, agents of evil may, and often must be, mentioned in news reports and opinion pieces, but we can never question the motivation of such people, we can never condemn them. Our task in the public sphere is to speak the truth in love, which means that we speak about the errors, we speak about the lies and unmask them, but we do not condemn the agents of falsehood and death as persons. I realize this is a distinction that you all know inherently – you wouldn’t write the way you do if you didn’t understand this. But it is something to remind ourselves about often.
Keep in mind the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. Jesus is about to be betrayed, tortured, radically humiliated and put to death unjustly. He has been lied about. He has been condemned. He will suffer agony. And yet he says at the Last Supper his consoling words to his apostles, whom he knows will have to go forth into an apparently unredeemed world, and that they too will suffer some of what he is about to suffer. He says to them:
“In this world, you will have tribulation but take heart, I have overcome the world.”
This passage is a paradox, a seeming contradiction. “You will have trouble in the world, but I have overcome the world.” What does this mean? He has overcome but not overcome? Our linear, pragmatic minds strain to try to comprehend it. Here Jesus is cracking open reality itself. He is opening our perceptions to the deeper reality of time and eternity and the unfolding of salvation history. He has overcome the world but the final stages of that overcoming, unto its resolution and the restoration of Creation to the Father, have yet to be enacted.
Here at this late stage of the West we see an eclipse, a darkening, a loss, a massive apostasy, and at the same time we see an extraordinary new upwelling of hope, a new springtime that has already begun in the midst of darkness. The future is already among us, the victory is already approaching its final moments. How long that will be, we do not know. Our task is to keep doing what we do and to trust that the battle belongs to God.