Interview with Michael D. O’Brien on his new novel, The Island of the World
for the Croatian Catholic magazine, MI List Mladih, Zagreb, Croatia
Razgovor s Michaelom O’Brienom o njegovom novum romanu Otok Svijeta
This interview for Traces, the Italian language journal of the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation, appears in its July 2007 edition. The interviewer is Dr. Edoardo Rialti, a professor of literature in Florence, Italy, and translator of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Thomas Howard and others.
During the 30 years I have been a painter and writer, I have noted a distinct pattern in myself: Whenever my prayer and sacramental life grow lax, the work suffers. It may continue to be clever and even dazzling to the eye, yet it becomes more and more shallow. Here is the vine and the branches that Jesus speaks of with a certain urgency. If creators of Christian culture hope to produce work that will bear good fruit, we must draw our life from the true source — our living Savior. He is real. He is present. But all too often we reduce him to an abstraction, giving him intellectual assent, but not our hearts.
What about this whole End Times scenario? What does the Catholic Church believe? IgnatiusInsight interviewed author Michael O’Brien whose fictional work Father Elijah is built around the character of a priest who is a convert from Judaism. Father Elijah is sent by the pope and the cardinal secretary of state to penetrate the inner circles of the man they believe is the Antichrist and call him to repentance. The plot for O’Brien’s book came to him in one inspiring moment while he was praying in a parish church for the state of the world and the Church. O’Brien, who is first and foremost the married father of six children and a Christian painter, went on to write an entire series, published by Ignatius Press. He is known as a strong voice for the Church’s moral values in Canada and in the West. Most recently, O’Brien gave a talk about the Apocalypse and Christianity at St. Patrick’s basilica in Ottawa, Canada.
“It is a complex situation and a volatile one,” O’Brien said. “Pope Benedict has said very clearly that what is needed in the Middle East is a just solution for the three major parties, Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian people.”
“This will take much prayer and sacrifice because the spirit of hatred and murder is at work,” he said.
O’Brien rejects either/or solutions that resemble choices between the devil and the deep blue sea. He said there is a third, God-given alternative that must be sought.
“Hezbollah are clearly the bad guys in the present situation,” he said, but Israel and Western nations must be extremely careful about resorting to a lesser evil to stamp out a bigger evil.
An interview with the internet journal Ignatius Insight, on the writing of Sophia House and other novels in The Children of the Last Days series.
Ignatius Insight: Sophia House is the sixth novel in the series. How has that series of novels evolved over time? What has surprised you or intrigued you about the development of the series over the years?
Michael O’Brien: In the late 1970s I wrote two novels, A Cry of Stone and Strangers and Sojourners, simply responding to an interior prompting to write down these stories which just kept fountaining up in my imagination. They were overtly Catholic in content, and I was young enough, naïve enough too, to think it was possible for them to be published in Canada. Over more than a decade I amassed a hefty collection of rejection letters from publishers, who usually said something like, “Loved the characters and the writing, but the reading public is no longer interested in this worldview.” Translation: no orthodox Catholic vision of reality is acceptable in the mainstream of culture. I didn’t even ponder venturing south of the border, just tucked my novels away in a box, chalking it up to experience, an exercise in writing, and no more. Years later a friend high up in the Canadian literary establishment, who was himself an agnostic, assured me with utmost conviction that the problem with my books was their Catholic vision.
O’Brien: My mother recently gave me my grade 5 report card, and my marks were all A’s except in one course. I looked down the list and read: A, A, A, A, D. I looked to see what subject I had failed so miserably, and it was . . . Art!
But, my father was a painter. He was just a Saturday afternoon painter, but as a boy I thought he was phenomenally good. I have one of his landscapes in my studio and I’m irrationally proud of it. When I was twelve, he gave me my first set of oil paints. I painted for a little and gave it up. Then during my late teens I lost my faith, drifted away from the sacraments. During that time I never thought about God. At the age of twenty-one I had a St. Paul type of conversion. It was total, instantaneous, a stunning surprise, and it was really the hand of God taking over my life at a very dark period. Shortly after returning to the Church, I picked up a pencil and went out to the woods one day and drew a tree. Then I drew another, and couldn’t stop—didn’t want to stop. An amazing torrent of creativity came pouring out which I had hardly given a thought to since I was a child. I began to draw everything. Within a couple of years I had an exhibit at a major gallery in Canada.
Question: This is your second visit to Croatia. What has brought you to our land?
O’Brien: I came to Croatia for the first time in 2003, at the invitation of my Croatian publisher, Verbum in Split, and the association of Catholic lay apostolates, MI, who co-sponsored the trip. I fell totally in love with your country and its people, and for that reason when Verbum suggested I make a return journey I was very eager to do so.
Q: What is it about our country that impresses you most?
O’Brien: As an artist and a writer, of course I was moved by the great beauty of your land, the mountains, the sea, the variety of landscapes and communities, the high level of culture. But what impresses me most profoundly is the character of your people.