I have just finished Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah. I’m afraid (in my opinion) it is not a great novel–too much dialogue, and a rambling, episodic plot. However, I like the main character, and the main apocalyptic theme fits our time and the somber season of approaching Advent. For me, Elijah’s encounter with the corrupt count in Warsaw, his conversations with the cardinal in the catacombs and his own inner battles are the most memorable and powerful scenes in the book.
What the book does best is reveal the major heresy of our time. Modernism is the blend of many other ‘isms’, among them scientism, rationalism, sentimentalism, idealism and utilitarianism.
Scientism believes science has all the answers, rationalism thinks the answers are all logical, sentimentalism is the dependance on emotional urgings for decision making, idealism trusts in a great ideal and utilitarianism trusts in what is efficient or what gets the job done. Relativism is the grand-daddy of them all, and says that there is no such thing as absolute truth.
In other words, modernism is the conviction that the supernatural is nothing more than silly wishful thinking of medieval-minded, superstitious old women (of every age and both genders) and that real religion is about changing the world instead of the salvation of souls.
This basic error is at the heart of a very fundamental dichotomy in our culture and our church. It doesn’t take too much analysis to see how modernism soon leads to tyranny. The modernist idealist (who doesn’t believe in the next world) has only one lifetime to try to make this world a better place, and to do so, he will use any means necessary. Thus all the great tyrannies have marched through the last century, shedding more blood than the world has ever seen. Each one believed in making the world a better place, and believed in killing all who held back their utopian dream.
What is most disturbing is to see how this heresy has invaded the Catholic Church. So we have bishops and priests and people who invest all their time and energy in trying to make this world a better place rather than saving souls for the next.
It is all such a subtle deception, but we must constantly be aware of two things: Satan is the Lord of this world, and his temptations in the wilderness were exactly of this order: “Come Jesus–turn these stones to bread and feed not only yourself but the whole world. Come, do you see all the nations of the world? I will give them to you and see what wonderful things you will be able to do? See how you will be able to save this world rather than save souls?”
Secondly, we are sometimes given the artificial choice to feed the poor or worship Christ in loving sacrifice. It was Judas who wanted to take the expensive ointment used to worship Christ and sell it to feed the poor.
O’Brien’s book leads us to remember this battle, and this Advent (and in the years to come) we do well to remember that the battle is a spiritual battle, and it is won by the little ones who go forward on their knees.
UPDATE: Check this website for just the sort of stuff The President in O’Brien’s book was spouting…
Father, I went to website as you suggested. Too bad it was right after lunch.This gem almost made me hurl, “The ultimate message of “It’s Time for a New God” is that life itself is divine, we are alive; therefore, we are divine and so is all and everything.”What a load of crappola.
we have bishops and priests and people who invest all their time and energy in trying to make this world a better place rather than saving souls for the next As I’ve said before the Church needs to get out of the “social justice” business and get back to what it’s supposed to do – save souls. Social justice flows from the laity ….
Some of the members of Synchronicity were just murdered in Mumbai, India.
Agree with you about the book – it starts well but badly needed a good editor to put it into shape. Far too much rambling.
Thanks for the book review; I’ve been thinking of reading this one…
I liked the book, though I agree it is too long and rambly. I thought he did a great job of showing just how much Fr. Elijah had lost, but that as a Catholic he could never lose everything. My complaint is the end of the book! He is setting up the Apocalypse, and then it stops! No fair! As you can see I am still outraged, though I read it several months ago. If he writes a sequel I will definitely read it, but I don’t intend to read the first one.
Michael O’Brien is not a great writer, though he is a very good one. I enjoy his novels and ones like Plaque Journal seem to predict exactly where Canada is heading.
I have read several of O’Brien’s books, and even got to interview him back when I was a Catholic newspaper scribbler.I agree with your literary assessment – his books tend to be a bit too talky, and the writing is not always crisp.But he does create some interesting characters and raises some important ideas.His books certainly hold their own against other “Christian” fiction.The apocalyptic overtones of some of his books fit the late 90s fears voiced by other writers.
I liked the book and perhaps enjoyed it more for the spiritual cathartic effect on me, especially through the Confession scenes, the treasonous cardinal, the dealings between the pope and Fr. Elijah, and the moments of solitude and prayer of Fr. Elijah. O’Brien did a good job of expressing some spiritual realities through existential encounters and thus e-vents: moments where truth or beauty or goodness or even thier antitheses burst forth, come out of these encounters.
Regarding your statement: “In other words, modernism is the conviction that the supernatural is nothing more than silly wishful thinking of medieval-minded, superstitious old women (of every age and both genders) and that real religion is about changing the world instead of the salvation of souls.This basic error is at the heart of a very fundamental dichotomy in our culture and our church. It doesn’t take too much analysis to see how modernism soon leads to tyranny.”Precisely. Walker Percy had a similar point: “Scientific inquiry should, in fact be free. The warning: If it is not, if it is subject to this or that ideology, then do not be surprised if the history of the Weimar doctors is repeated. Weimar leads to Auschwitz. The nihilism of some scientists in the name of ideology or sentimentality and the consequent devaluation of individual human life lead straight to the gas chamber.” (Signposts, 396)And not too long before him, Flannery O’Connor too:”One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited his goodness, you are done with him. … In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.” (Mystery and Manners, 227)
We have just finished reading our copies for the first time. VERY interesting!
Hi FatherI found this today by google-ing O’Brien. I hope to change your opinion on the book. Given the amount of posts you have since then, I suspect this is between you and I. Stylistically, the book needed more dialogue and less narration. I think that is really what your dialog criticism is about. O’Brien stacks up his characters like Socratic bowling pins. It’s a bit predictable too. BUT, BUT, BUT . . . This was his first novel. These criticism are small, compared to the book’s themes. Since he’s on the team, we really need to support him. In my opinion, it is a great novel. I also think that the entire series will become a spiritual classic. It shows us how to deal with the life of spirit as our world becomes more engulfed in Materialism. Our faith will continue to conflict with the ruling powers, and perhaps a book like this will come in handy as the world darkens and families grow more isolated. I returned to the Church ten years ago. We don’t have a lot of support, nor a lot of Catholic friends. We feel a sense of isolation, because of it. Perhaps this is why I strongly defend his work. After finishing Fr. E., I bought Sophia House which is the prequel, and written latter in his career, and it is stylistically better. Also, it is spiritually more significant since it has less action.O’Brien is engaging the Culture of Death through art. For this alone his work is significant. I finished Sophia House in about 2 weeks. I’ve ordered Cry of Stone and plan to read it and Strangers and Sojourners for Lent. I ask respectfully that you reconsider giving him the benefit of the doubt since it was his first. You might reconsider after reading Sophia House. He is also a painter, and his work is really excellent please check out his site studiobrien dot com. You might even wish to purchase some for your parish. I appreciate your criticism, and understand it. I think his themes totally dwarf stylistic immaturity. Since he is trying to be holy, I think he deserves another look. I thought many times as I was reading that if I were a priest, I would offer his work to parishioners in need of spiritual direction. I consider his work more lectio and less entertainment. Thank you Father.
I agree with Cubeland Mystic. We really do need to support our Catholic authors. I thought “Father Elijah” was a very good story even though it seemed to meander a bit. I’ve read every single novel written by Michael O’Brien and his writing has done nothing but improve. Not that I wasn’t pleased with his first novels mind you. :o)My favorites are “Sophia House” and “Island of the World”. If you haven’t read them yet, get on over to your favorite Catholic bookseller pronto and buy them!