Michael D. O’Brien interviewed by Valerie Schmalz, IgnatiusInsight magazine
The number 666 is believed by some interpreters of the New Testament Book of Revelation to be the Mark of the Beast, the sign of the Antichrist who will come near the end of the world to engage in the battle of the Apocalypse. American filmmakers and book publishers are never ones to let an opportunity to make money pass them by. The producers of the remake of The Omen are releasing the movie on June 6, 2006. At the same time as the fictional tale of a child born to be the Antichrist hits movie theaters, The Rapture, the final book in the fundamentalist potboiler Left Behind series by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, is also set for release in bookstores on June 6th.
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.
IgnatiusInsight: Who is the Antichrist? Is he for real?
O’Brien: At this point in history we do not know whom, specifically, the Antichrist is. There are many people on the world stage who promote the ideas of the Antichrist and spirit of Antichrist. We do know that at some point in history this spirit of Antichrist will manifest itself in an actual person who will be totally under the influence of Satan. Scripture calls him the Man of Sin, alternately the Son of Perdition and the Beast. Who, in fact, this will prove to be, we do not yet know. But we should clearly understand that he will be a world figure, not just a spirit. That spirit of the Antichrist has been with us from the beginning of the Church, making war against the Church, but when it is embodied in the person of the anti-Christ he will make total war. St. Paul says he will come to power by “lies and flattery.” In other words, deluding men’s minds.
IgnatiusInsight: So it is a real revelation of the Catholic Church? The Catholic Church believes there is a real person of the Antichrist who will appear at some point in history?
O’Brien: Absolutely yes. It is in the Scripture and it is in the teachings of the Church. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675)
IgnatiusInsight: Do you think this appearance of the Antichrist is something that could happen in our lifetimes?
O’Brien: It certainly is looking more and more possible, even probable. The climate of world opinion has become so conditioned by new media culture, which is continuously pumping into the consciousness of modern man moral values and ideas that are completely at odds with the teachings of Christ and the Church. That spirit of Antichrist is growing, spreading throughout the world. And the proponents of the New World Order recognize—you can read it in their writings and interviews—that the Roman Catholic Church is the single major stumbling block to their agenda. Only the Church, the Body of Christ in the world, stands as a bulwark against the emergence of this New World Order, which embodies many of the ideas of the Antichrist. But I should say that it is not only anti-Christ, it is anti-human, it is anti-person. It is collectivist and totalitarian, although it speaks endlessly of the beauty of democracy.
IgnatiusInsight: Are there apocalyptic elements in the modern age?
O’Brien: I believe there are unprecedented apocalyptic elements in the modern age. Two main ones we should keep an eye on. First is this emergence of a New World Order that continuously exhibits a willfulness to override individual conscience on moral issues and also to override the conscience of sovereign nations.
For instance, the European Union has shown itself quite willing to threaten and withhold benefits from member states who refuse to provide abortion services, typically that is Catholic countries, for example Slovakia and Poland. It also threatens to prevent the entry into the European Union of small nations that do not agree to the redefined morality of the European Union. The United Nations Organization actively promotes population control and uses the whip-and-carrot approach to make reluctant nations comply—the carrot being financial aid. This is a grave undermining of democracy as we’ve known it. It’s also a severe violation of the inviolability of personal conscience and conscience of nations.
On a more grassroots level, the countless movements such as the feminist movement, the pro-abortion movement, gay marriage advocates . . . all posit freedom as an absolute but disconnect it from responsibility. I am free to kill my child in the womb, I am free to cohabit with a person of my gender and I will force you my nation, and I will force you Christians who oppose it, to call it marriage. In these and similar phenomena we are seeing a new kind of violation of conscience in the democracies of the formerly Christian nations. Those nations that retain remnants of fundamental principles of their Judeo-Christian heritage are punished when they resist the New World Order. They must pay a high price to retain their moral autonomy. Pope Benedict XVI calls it the “dictatorship of moral relativism” and I would say it is practically universal in the modern world and growing in power.
IgnatiusInsight: Movies such as The Omen (released June 6) and the books of the Left Behind series—do they reflect a consciousness or sense in the culture from both religious fundamentalists and the very secular that something is afoot in our culture?
O’Brien: Whatever the filmmakers’ and publishers’ motivation may be — which is probably money — regardless, I think they are tapping into a reality in the modern age. Most people are aware of a radical shift in the nature of modern life that is fundamentally different than all traditional societies. Good, bad, and ugly (up until now), all societies protected the family, most societies recognized that killing your children was an evil, all societies recognized that homosexual relationships were disordered in some way. Whether or not they handled this badly or well, they recognized it as a severe problem and that it had negative social consequences.
The formerly Christian nations of the democratic West are losing their democracy even as they increase their rhetoric about democracy. People realize that they are being forced into unnatural and evil choices. We are now living in a double-income-two-child-or-less economy. We are living in a pyramid of sin from top to bottom in this society. I think that most people, even when they think that’s a good thing, in the heart of their soul they recognize that something is seriously wrong in this.
These tensions in the modern world are unprecedented in scope and power. Add to this the fact that the character of the previous century was a tremendous shock to mankind. It is now estimated that upward of 170 million people were murdered by their governments in the 20th century. Those governments ranged from Marxist to Fascist to various forms of utopianism. This figure does not include the number of lives taken unjustly through abortion and euthanasia. The power of death, and the fear of death, have grown at an extraordinary rate in a very short period of time, in little more than one generation. At least on the intuitive level most people realize there is something gravely wrong and something has to change but almost no one knows how to change.
As Christians we know where ultimate salvation is to be found. Yet, whether one is a believer or an unbeliever I think most people are haunted by a sense that we live in a strange, existentially dangerous period in history. The dread is increased by the fact that few people feel they understand what is happening or know how to solve it. Therefore apocalypse begins to function as catharsis. People will flock to films like The Omen or End of Days or other End Times films because they can experience a vicarious catastrophic explosion of the world they live in and watch it resolved. Of course, it is a false resolution.
IgnatiusInsight: Your novel Father Elijah is the fictional story of a man raised up to battle the Antichrist. What was your inspiration?
O’Brien: My novel Father Elijah does not attempt to predict the future. It is a very different kind of novel than Protestant scenarios or even secular scenarios of an apocalyptic nature. It is not “baptized fortune-telling” which is a contradiction in terms. My book attempts to raise, in a fictional form, the questions that must be asked in every generation. Am I awake? Am I living in a spirit of vigilance? Am I reading the signs of the times with a calm, peaceful and trusting heart and with a mind in tune with the mind of the Church, or am I asleep? Am I vulnerable to the falsehood of Antichrist? Have I made compromises with that spirit? And if so, where? Am I praying to the Holy Spirit for light? Light to understand the times we live in and light to understand my role?
IgnatiusInsight: How exactly did you come to write Father Elijah?
O’Brien: In the early 1990s, raising a large family in an anti-life society with very little income, I was often overwhelmed with a feeling of discouragement. My faith was very strong in Christ but I saw the power of anti-life and anti-Christ forces growing in my native land—what Pope Benedict XVI has now called “the dictatorship of moral relativism.” At the same time, I saw a grievous weakening of the particular church in the nation where I live, the Church in Canada, which is very much like some particular churches in Europe and in America. We were losing the ability to recognize truth, to live by truth and to resist the power of falsehood and death.
One day I was in my local parish church, praying about this. I was weeping in front of the crucifix and pleading with the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Begging him to bring us through this time. I was pleading with him to purify and strengthen the Church in my land. And in this state of deep grief and prayer, I was suddenly flooded with a very powerful supernatural peace, for me an unprecedented kind of peace, and at the same time there came into my mind a full-blown story. It was like watching a movie in my mind. It startled me because I had no thought of writing a novel. I did not think of myself as writer, I was a Christian painter, the father of a family and the editor of Catholic family magazine. However, there came a very strong knowledge that God wanted me to write this down. I was absolutely convinced it could not be published. Even so, over an eight month period I wrote it and then I just put it on a shelf and did not try to get it published. However, through an uncanny act of Providence, doors opened and I was asked to submit the manuscript. I refused because I thought it would be a waste of postage. So my eventual publisher, Ignatius Press, said just send us the manuscript, we’ll pay for postage. A couple of months later they sent me a contract and Father Elijah was published within the year.
That little act of obedience has borne tremendous fruit. I think over 40,000 copies of this novel have been sold and it has now been translated into four languages.
I realize in hindsight that my feeling of discouragement was part of the falsehood of the modern era, which can so easily infect Christians with a sense of futility. How can we resist this monolith that seems to control and dominate every aspect of our lives in this secular age? This moral relativism that sucks the life out of the modern world? Well, we can indeed resist it. The New Evangelization is possible but it will demand of each of us a docility to the Holy Spirit and a willingness to risk everything for Christ even when it appears to be pure folly. We must remember that the darkness cannot overpower the light. Christ has won.
This interview can be found at Ignatius Insight’s web site. Click on the link below:
Ignatius Insight Interview